Social distancing enforced at Ohio county jail
The jail, which has always had infectious disease screening, is doubling their efforts in case of a coronavirus outbreak
By Lori Steineck
CANTON, Ohio — The number of prisoners in the Stark County Jail is falling as law enforcement implements COVID-19 safety measures.
Sheriff George Maier said the jail count just before 9 a.m. Monday was down to 434 prisoners, well below the 526 threshold.
"It's been a little below the 500 mark, but we dipped way down in the last week or so," the sheriff said. "We are as low as we've been in a number of years."
Maier said that while prisoners have long made court appearances via jailhouse video, more legal business is being done that way now since "social distancing" has become the mandate.
"We are working with our various courts to restrict the transportation or flow of inmates, and we are doing more video (court hearings) than we have in the past. We are doing whatever we can to reduce the (in-person) contact at this time."
People accused of committing violent crimes are not being released.
But officers who would otherwise arrest a suspect are being asked to consider the risk each poses.
"We're not letting people out of the jail. We're asking our partners (in law enforcement) that if they stop someone that is not a risk of harm, to issue a summons rather than bring them to the jail," Maier said. Especially, he said, "If it's a lower-level offense, non-violent offense, and that person poses no risk of harm to themself or somebody else.
With each arrest, he said, "Right now, we're taking things on a case-by-case basis."
Maier pointed out that law enforcement agencies in neighboring counties are doing the same. But some county jails are not accepting adult probation or parole offenders.
"We've not talked to adult parole or probation about that," he said, adding that he plans to.
Inside the jail
Prisoners are not the only ones being screened: employees and vendors, such as repairmen or plumbers, are being questioned.
Maier said everyone is being asked, "Have you been sick? Do you have a fever, constant cough, respiratory problems? Have you traveled out of the country in the last few weeks?"
The jail has always had an infectious disease screening, but now, "We are redoubling our efforts. We've take that to the next level," the sheriff said. "Our people have been issued Personal Protective Equipment and our staff is prepared. If we do have an outbreak or an incident, we feel like we can safely address it."
Since last week, friends and family can only visit prisoners via an online service and people who would normally come to the jail for fingerprinting services and carry-conceal licenses cannot get those services - for now.
"We are trying to stay ahead of this. Our main priority right now is to try to keep people safe," Maier said.
No one has been arrested for failing to adhere to the "social distancing" that federal officials are advising.
"Obviously if they don't abide by the governor's orders, we have the authority to take enforcement action. We don't anticipate that we will need to because we are confident that the people of Stark County will do the right thing to keep our county and the State of Ohio healthy," he said.
"We are at a place in this country we have never been before. This is serious, what we're dealing with. People's lives depend on it. We all have to suffer through some inconveniences so we can make our country healthy. We are willing to do our part here."
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