The Ward County Jail has seen an influx of inmates recently, and the pandemic is partly the blame for what it says are overcrowding issues. We take you inside the jail to show how staff are dealing with the growing pressure.
The Ward County Jail expanded back in 2017 to be able to hold about 285 people. As of Tuesday morning, the jail is housing 165 inmates.
“What we are trying to do is protect people, by separating them and that’s kind of hard to do when we are at 160 and we are at 165 today,” said Jail Commander Paul Olthoff.
The reason is COVID-19. Even though they have room for about 80 more inmates, Olthoff says that with social distancing guidelines in place, that’s close to full.
“With the initial screening that we are doing on people, and we are locking them down for three days and then they are going on a 14 day. They go 14 days before they get to general popular,” added Olthoff.
Olthoff says they have resorted to using the old jail facility to keep those new inmates quarantined from the general population. Ward County is also being asked to house more state inmates than usual.
He added, “We have a contract for 24 inmates…due to this we are up to 36. We were high as 41.”
But the jail is getting help. Early in the pandemic when the state penitentiary wasn’t accepting inmates, the state also did not offer any reimbursement to county jails for shouldering the extra load. That has since changed.
“The state has agreed to reimburse for all the state inmates that we have held over the past three or four months,” he added.
The county jail has also received close to 60,000 federal dollars to buy masks, shields and other PPE gear, which Sgt. Anthony Owens says is needed.
“It’s a lot more safer for the inmate as well as the CO’s,” said Owens.
Captain Olthoff says he doesn’t expect the jail to reach its full capacity. But for now, things are getting tight and Olthoff says it will look to the state for guidance if it gets much tighter.
The interim director of the Department of Corrections says they are increasing the intake numbers at the state penitentiary to relieve some of the pressure from county jails.