Sheriff’s Office works with other facilities to prepare for COVID-19 effects on jail system

Sheriff Chuck Atkins’ team ready to implement multiple level preparedness plan to protect corrections staff and inmates

VANCOUVER — The Clark County Sheriff’s Office (CCSO) has begun the process of implementing a multiple-level plan to protect corrections staff and inmates in the Clark County Jail system during the novel coronavirus, COVID-19, outbreak.

“[We] put together an operational plan on how we reduce the number of people currently in the jail, and how we reduce the number of people coming into the jail,” said Sheriff Chuck Atkins. “We’re restricting a high booking level, and we’re making sure that we have bed space for an emergency if I were to have staff impacted or inmates impacted, but to eliminate those numbers is for that purpose alone, and to make it a better environment.”

The Clark County Sheriff’s Office is taking precautionary measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19 into the jail system. Photo by Mike Schultz
The Clark County Sheriff’s Office is taking precautionary measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19 into the jail system. Photo by Mike Schultz

CCSO, which operates the jail, will no longer be accepting overnight inmates or transfers from other facilities, Atkins said. This is in an effort to prevent any spread of COVID-19 to multiple corrections facilities.

“Everybody, virtually, now has either started or will implement soon not utilizing that because we don’t want to introduce unknown people into the jail that could, infect, and then move on and infect,” Atkins said. 

The sheriff went on to explain that while the mini-chain, as the above mentioned process is known, will no longer be implemented, the utmost goal is still to keep inmates deemed a public safety threat incarcerated.

A temporary bail schedule which allows non-violent felony offenders the opportunity to meet bail ahead of their court date and push the in-person date out later, is now being used. This limits the number of people in the court buildings as well as the jail, he said.

“We’re just trying to do a few of those things to get our number down, the daily numbers, so that we can make sure that we are in a good place to handle anything that comes, including if I have to shut down the jail work center, how we would do that and bring those staff back into the main building,” he said.

CCSO spaces are already limited, such as lobbies and the precinct, to reduce staff interaction with possible infection. Atkins explained that deputies are also given discretion when it comes to the means in which they handle a call. If the situation can be handled with social distancing or by phone, they are encouraged to do that, he said. 

“My head isn’t in the sand. I’m a realist,” Atkins said. “I’ve got a plan for a potential worst-case scenario, and know that all the management staff, all of the courts, all of the head leaders, the electeds, we’ve been behind the scenes, beating our heads together, putting these worst-case scenario plans in place, making sure that if there are legal hurdles we have to overcome, that we’ve already overcome them. So that when, and if the time arises, we can implement something without scrambling to try to fix it at the moment.”

CCSO already operates as one of the most understaffed departments in Washington state, and keeping all deputies healthy is the highest priority, Atkins said.   

About The Author

Jacob Granneman is a filmmaker and writer from Clark County. He is a graduate of Washington State University’s Edward R. Murrow College, where he studied journalism and media production. He has produced documentary stories all over the Pacific Northwest and abroad in Argentina. His passions range from sharing the love of Jesus, to cinematography, to going on adventures in the most beautiful place on earth, i.e. his backyard. He lives with his wife in Vancouver, WA. Proverbs 16:3

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