Jail at lowest capacity in decades during COVID-19.

April 9, 2020

Photo courtesy of Oceana County Sheriff’s Office

Jail at lowest capacity in decades during COVID-19.

By Allison Scarbrough, Editor.

HART — There are 27 inmates presently lodged in the Oceana County Jail, which is a 66-person-capacity facility, said Oceana County Sheriff Craig Mast. That is the lowest inmate population he has ever seen in his 27-year career with the sheriff’s office.

In an effort to prevent the spread of COVID-19, jails across the country have released non-violent offenders and those who are medically at risk. The Oceana County Jail released several inmates who fit those categories, March 23.

Photo courtesy of Oceana County Sheriff’s Office

Police departments are also making fewer arrests and issuing appearance citations instead.

“It is the intention of the Oceana County Sheriff’s Office to follow Governor Whitmer’s executive order to assist in reducing the spread of COVID-19 in our community,” said Sheriff Mast.

“As of March 23, 2020 we asked the courts to release a number of inmates from our facility. The majority of the inmates released were considered at-risk by our medical director, and the remainder were non-violent offenders. Creating room in our jail will allow for inmate isolation if necessary. We are trying to protect our jail inmate population and staff as best we can from this virus.”

Mast stressed that violent offenders are not being released.

Photo courtesy of Oceana County Sheriff’s Office

Cleaning and sanitizing the jail is done daily, Mast said, and inmates are assisting with that effort. “There is round-the-clock cleaning,” he said.

Offenders must undergo a screening process before being lodged in the jail. If they pass the screening, which includes taking their temperature and answering a series of questions, they must quarantine in an empty cell, the sheriff said.

If an inmate does not pass the screening the process, he or she will be sent to Mercy Health Partners Lakeshore campus in Shelby. The hospital has a COVID-19 triage tent outside the emergency room entrance.

Photo courtesy of Oceana County Sheriff’s Office

If inmates are eligible to bond out, they are encouraged to do so. Bonding out is a process that requires no face-to-face or hand-to-hand interaction.

If a person needs to bond someone out of jail, they can go to the sheriff’s office and use a phone outside the building to contact staff inside. If the person is allowed access, they can use a kiosk in the lobby to make the transaction with either cash or a credit or debit card. There is hand sanitizer that people are asked to use.

Mast said there is a line marked in the lobby area where the public is not allowed to walk past.

Jail staff wear personal protective equipment that is regularly replaced.

Face-to-face visitation of inmates has not been in place “for a long time,” Mast said. It was replaced by video visitation long before the the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, family members can visit their loved ones in jail using their computers and phones while staying safely at home.

Work release of inmates and the inmate work program have been suspended. However, the violent offenders who are currently lodged in jail would not have been eligible for those programs anyway.

Mast wanted to remind the community that his deputies are not “turning a blind eye” to crime. Suspects who commit serious crimes will be lodged. However, less serious cases are forwarded to the Oceana County Prosecutor’s Office, and suspects are given appearance citations for future court hearings — many of which can be handled over the phone.

The more serious cases are handed via polycom, which is video teleconferencing from the jail to the courtroom.

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