Extra screening, cleaning aimed at keeping COVID-19 out of Mo. prisons, jails

There are no suspected cases of COVID-19 in Missouri prisons, but each warden has been asked to identify specific wings or cells to use to prepare for the worst


By Jesse Bogan
St. Louis Post-Dispatch

ST. LOUIS — The Missouri Department of Corrections on Wednesday said that it is ramping up screening for anyone entering its facilities in an effort to keep the new coronavirus from spreading, but it is not mandating that temperatures be taken.

Staff, volunteers, vendors and everyone else who needs to enter any departmentwide office or facility will be asked a series of health-related questions. That includes everywhere from probation and parole offices to community supervision centers to the state’s 20 prisons, which hold 26,000 inmates.

Maximum security housing units at the new Jefferson City Correctional Center sit below dormitory-style housing at a the minimum security Algoa Correctional Center in Jefferson City, Mo. (AP Photo/Kelley McCall)
Maximum security housing units at the new Jefferson City Correctional Center sit below dormitory-style housing at a the minimum security Algoa Correctional Center in Jefferson City, Mo. (AP Photo/Kelley McCall)

“Each location will have to figure out their logistics, but everybody is supposed to be up and running by the end of the week,” said Karen Pojmann, spokeswoman for the agency.

The screening efforts do not include mandatory temperatures being taken.

“Not at this point,” said Pojmann.

The department is still accepting new inmates, but has cut off visits and inmate transfers to other facilities. Pojmann said there are no suspected cases of COVID-19 in Missouri prisons, but, as a precaution, each warden has been asked to identify specific wings or cells to use “to make sure everybody is prepared for a possible increase” of people with infectious disease.

She said there are no plans to release nonviolent offenders.

Some jails, such as the St. Louis Justice Center, stopped admitting individuals to be held on low-level, nonviolent offenses to limit the jail population’s potential exposure.

Jacob Long, spokesman for Mayor Lyda Krewson, said contact visits have been closed down at the city’s two jails. He said jail employees are doing regular temperature checks and “more enhanced cleaning.”

At the St. Louis County Jail in Clayton, officials have increased the frequency of cleaning from once per day on first and second shift with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention-approved disinfectant to three times a day on those shifts. Other measures have been taken, including additional hand sanitizers placed throughout the jail and more inventory of personal protective equipment, officials said.

While volunteer services have been suspended at the St. Louis County Jail, inmates have been allowed more access to television, phones and recreational time. Visits continue, but there are no-contact visitation booths.

Jefferson County Sheriff Dave Marshak said his jail population was 198 on Wednesday morning, though it’s going down because people are posting bond and judges are releasing nonviolent offenders.

“We’re currently housing more than 150 violent felons in our facility, and so exposure within the facility is one of our greatest concerns right now,” he said. “We’ve made adjustments internally within the jail to provide areas for quarantine.”

Iron County Sheriff Roger Medley said quarantine isn’t an option at his small jail. One of the two small wings is already designated for sex offenders.

“If we do have an outbreak, we won’t be able to segregate people because of the nature of the site,” Medley said.

His jail population on Wednesday was 12. Visits have been canceled and deputies, when possible, are trying to take reports over the phone instead of in person.

“We aren’t having anybody come to the jail if we can avoid it,” he said.

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©2020 the St. Louis Post-Dispatch

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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