Deer Ridge, county jail have no COVID-19 cases
As of Tuesday, May 19, Deer Ridge Correctional Institution had 10 inmates under quarantine, but so far no inmates or staff at the state facility or at the Jefferson County Adult Correctional Facility have tested positive for COVID-19, and neither facility has experienced the kind of unrest seen at prisons in other parts of the country.
In early April, a 128-person housing unit at DRCI east of Madras was put in isolation because several adults in custody had flu-like symptoms. Six inmates were tested for COVID-19, and all test results were negative.
"Quarantine refers to confining individuals who have had close contact with a COVID-19 case to determine whether they develop symptoms of the disease. Quarantine for COVID-19 lasts for a period of 14 days," according to the Oregon Department of Corrections website.
After 14 days with no symptoms, inmates are allowed to rejoin their housing unit. If quarantined inmates develop COVID-19 symptoms, they are placed in medical isolation.
Testing capacity is limited in the prison system as it is everywhere in Oregon, so testing is performed "as healthcare providers direct. DOC uses CDC/OHA guidance on appropriate criteria for testing. Those being tested and/or awaiting results are on respiratory isolation."
Like all 14 state correctional facilities, Deer Ridge has implemented CDC and Oregon Health Authority guidelines to prevent the spread of COVID-19 within the prison, leading to major changes in its operations.
Since March 13, all nonessential staff and visitors have been barred from entering DRCI. Nonessential staff and visitors include family members, volunteers, attorneys, and parole and probation officers.
Workers deemed essential, such as Department of Corrections employees, outside medical personnel, end-of-life visitors and UPS drivers, are allowed at the site.
DRCI is still receiving new prisoners transferred from the Coffee Creek Correctional Facility in Wilsonville, where all state inmates begin their terms in custody.
"They begin their quarantining period while they're still there, and then they are usually in the intake facility up to about 30 days," said Sharon Ball, Management Assistant and Public Information Officer at DRCI.
The DOC has instituted social distancing within the prisons as much as possible. "There are institutional designs that make it very difficult," said Ball.
A major part of the DOC strategy is to keep units, which vary in size from 116 to 128 residents, together and avoid mingling between units.
In common areas like the cafeteria, the prison tries to maintain distancing by "staggering every other table, staggering the number that can be at the table and then calling our adults in custody in by unit to eat so that they are effectively staying with that larger family group that they also sleep and recreate with," Ball said.
Inmates can still use facilities like the day rooms, library or chapel, but in some areas the number of users is limited, and people are encouraged to stay 6 feet apart as much as possible.
Inmates who have work opportunities inside the prison are still able to work.
"The DRCI Food Service Department has continued to provide meals for three jails and the drive-through system for seniors set up by the Madras Senior Center. The Culver Senior Center is closed at this time, so they are not receiving their typical Meals on Wheels," Ball said.
Each inmate has been offered two cloth masks, and each staff member has been offered one mask. Use of the masks is voluntary, except for workers preparing or serving food or for inmates using health services or waiting in line for medicine.
To maintain proper hygiene, the DOC has instructed inmates to wash their masks with soap and water and allow them to air-dry overnight. Inmates can get replacements for lost or destroyed masks.
Facilities are being cleaned and disinfected "numerous" times a day, and inmates are also encouraged to wash their hands frequently, according to the DOC website.
Jefferson County Correctional Facility
Jefferson County Sheriff Jim Adkins has taken precautions to protect staff and inmates at the Jefferson County jail, in part by reducing the number of inmates by 40-50%.
As of Monday, May 11, the jail housed 37 inmates, down from the usual 60-70 inmates.
The sheriff's department has more leeway than the state correctional system in controlling the number of inmates at its facility.
When the state of Oregon implemented its pandemic response, Adkins ordered the jail to release two prisoners who were most at-risk for developing serious illness from the coronavirus because of their age.
But the reduction in inmates has mainly been accomplished by having local law enforcement issue citations to appear in court instead of arresting suspects of minor crimes.
"We do consult with the DA," said Adkins. "If it's a high priority case, we get the judge involved."
The citations require suspects to appear at an arraignment in 30 days, at which time the judge can order them released or put in custody.
Having fewer inmates entering the jail has lessened the chance of introducing the virus to a vulnerable population.
When new inmates come in, they are checked by medical personnel and then quarantined for 14 days, taking advantage of extra space that usually goes unused.
The jail was built to house offenders from Crook County as well as from Jefferson County under a contractual agreement between the counties. However, in 2019, Crook County completed construction of its own jail and stopped sending prisoners to Jefferson County.
"After Crook County left us, we shut down a couple pods," said Adkins. But now the extra pods have come in handy.
"We use them to quarantine people who come into the facility. I doubt that any other jails can do that," Adkins said.
Other COVID-19 precautions at the jail include daily temperature checks for the inmates, increased cleaning of the facility, and masks worn by deputies when in close contact with inmates.
With restrictions beginning to ease up, Adkins said he has reopened the jail lobby this week and anticipates beginning to increase the number of inmates at the jail next week.
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