The Clark County Jail’s inmate population has been recently steadily increasing, prompting Sheriff Chuck Atkins to request a group of law enforcement officials to reconvene and, once again, determine how to reduce the numbers amid the continuing COVID-19 pandemic.
As of Friday, the jail’s inmate population totaled 432, according to Chief Corrections Deputy Ric Bishop. That number includes inmates who have been temporarily transferred to Western State Hospital, a psychiatric facility, Bishop said. He did not say how many transferred inmates there are listed at the jail.
The population has been increasing over the past several weeks mostly due to limited court activity as people await trial, said Bishop. Clark County Superior Court continues to operate under multiple coronavirus-related general orders that limit court proceedings.
Judges decide who stays in the jail and who will be released under special conditions as officials navigate the pandemic.
“We continue to take in (people) who are a threat to public safety,” Bishop said.
The sheriff reportedly noticed the increase in inmates about two weeks ago. He has called on a group of criminal justice officials to meet in early September and re-examine the policies about the population and to update the criteria granting them release.
The group met in March to discuss ways to reduce the jail’s population as COVID-19 began affecting everyday life and institutional procedures here and nationwide. The population went from 601 on March 17 to 417 three days later, according to numbers provided by the jail.
General criteria were established for the types of crimes and cases assessed for potential release into pretrial supervision. The criteria — established by Clark County Prosecutor Tony Golik, Atkins, and the presiding District and Superior Court judges — includes nonviolent cases such as drug and property crimes. No cases involving sex offenses are reviewed, and generally, no domestic violence cases meet the criteria, officials said.
The jail chief previously told The Columbian that social distancing was the primary concern. Having fewer people housed is an attempt to spread out the population, to distance them in compliance with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendations. Defense attorneys and family members of inmates have said the measures don’t go far enough.
On April 7, the jail reported that a recently released inmate had tested positive for COVID-19. A correctional deputy learned about a week later that they had tested positive. By then, there were about 340 inmates housed at the facility. The total population has fluctuated around 350 inmates for months now.
Since then, the jail has not reported another positive test. But according to a weekly report dated Aug. 28 containing COVID-19 data, which the jail sends to the state, a single support staff employee tested positive in the past week. Fourteen tests for the illness were administered to inmates within the last week. None of them tested positive but nine were quarantined, according to the report.
The courts and prosecutors have been instrumental in keeping the population down as much as possible, Bishop said.
“Our goal remains to keep the population down due to COVID-19 while balancing public safety,” he said.