Montgomery County Jail sees ‘huge rise’ in COVID cases

The Montgomery County Jail. JIM NOELKER/STAFF

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The Montgomery County Jail. JIM NOELKER/STAFF

Roughly 1 in 7 inmates is either COVID-positive or waiting for test results

The Montgomery County Jail has 50 COVID-19 cases, and jail officials are keeping COVID-positive inmates together in one pod.

Montgomery County Sheriff Rob Streck said in a statement that the jail has another 36 people awaiting COVID test results, and they are also separated into their own area.

“This is a huge rise in positive cases in the jail,” Streck said. “Prior to Omicron, we rarely had a positive case.”

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During the coronavirus outbreak, health experts have said that jailed inmates are especially vulnerable to COVID-19. Captive populations such as inmates could be at risk of an outbreak as they are forced to live within close quarters.

The COVID Omicron variant has spread rapidly throughout the country. Ohio has recorded between 18,000 and 21,000 new COVID cases each of the past 11 days -- thousands higher than just a few weeks earlier, according to the Ohio Department of Health.

To combat a continued rise in COVID cases, the sheriff said that the office has kept most of its policies and procedures, like regular cleaning and social distancing, since the pandemic started nearly two years ago.

However, there were additional precautions instituted.

“I have also stopped larger in-person meetings and gatherings, stopped in-person roll calls, and am working on telephone reporting once again for certain offenses,” Streck said. “Much of this affects all areas of the sheriff’s office, but it is being done to protect my employees and keep them healthy because a large portion of my employees also have contact with our jail.”

There were about 600 people in the jail Thursday, and the sheriff said that local judges and probation departments are continuing to work to keep people out of jail “unless absolutely necessary.” Since the pandemic, there have been about 600 to 650 inmates in the jail. Before the pandemic, that number was between 820 and 840.

ExplorePrevious reporting: More than 300 inmates released from Montgomery County Jail

But there still should be fewer than 600 people in jail now, said Joel Pruce with the Montgomery County Jail Coalition — a group that seeks to reduce the jail population through alternatives to incarceration.

Pruce pointed out that when the pandemic first began, more than 300 inmates accused of non-violent offenses were released from the county jail, and “public safety remained fully intact.”

“We know they can do it. We know they worked hard and did it before and people are in there now for no good reason, for reasons that don’t serve public safety or the individual,” Pruce said.

There were about 400 to 500 inmates in the county jail after the inmate release in March 2020.

Pruce said officials should continue to seek alternatives to arrests such as ticketing and issuing reasonable bonds as a way to lower the jail population.

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