The COVID-19 pandemic is especially challenging in group living situations, including jails.
The Kentucky Department of Corrections manages state prisons and works with the state Department of Public Health to confront and contain outbreaks of the virus, as it did at the Green River Correctional Complex in Muhlenberg County.
But county jails don’t have that centralized management.
Each county jail is independent and operated by an elected jailer and an elected county judge-executive or administrator.
WKU Public Radio reporter Rhonda Miller talked with Daviess County Jailer Art Maglinger about the health precautions in place for the detention center that has more than 600 inmates and 80 staff.
Maglinger: It's very challenging. The staff, you know, is on the front lines. They're essential workers. So they already had a dangerous enough job. And this kinda adds the element of just unknown danger to their jobs. We are in close exposure and that's unavoidable in a corrections setting. We have to treat, you know, every new intake like they potentially have drugs or weapons. So some of that involves close person encounters. At the staffing level it's a challenge for them. And I think I've just been very impressed with their leadership and many dedicated jail deputies here willing to put themselves in some danger to carry on their duties in already a dangerous job. Since March we’ve been taking precautions for COVID-19, which included deep cleaning regimens. We implemented PPE and the staff also receives a temperature check prior to starting their shift. Every new intake is medically screened, which includes a temperature check, the COVID questions.
Miller: And have you had any COVID confirmed cases in the jail?
Maglinger: We've had two part-time deputies that have tested positive.
Miller: And so the deputies, the two deputies that were part-time that tested positive, are they back to work?
Maglinger: Yes, both of them are back to work and both of them made a full recovery.
Miller: Well, that's good. 'Cause that was a while ago, right?
Maglinger: Yes. One of them was in the end of March, first part of April, and the other one was more recently, probably about a month ago.
Miller: One of the concerns that I've heard about county jails is that if people come in for a short time, let's say somebody was arrested for a DUI and they're only in maybe for a day or two, and then they're right back in the community. How do you handle those people?
Maglinger: With alcohol-related offenses, a lot of times it's just a mandatory eight hours and then they get released. So even if they were tested, they wouldn't still be at the facility when we receive the results, probably like a day later. We've been taking the same precautions since the pandemic, treating every new intake like they're a potential carrier. They're actually quarantined for a period between 10-to-14 days. So not every inmate, it's not mandatory where every inmate, but if that inmate was symptomatic, they would be tested by our medical provider.
Miller: Is that a Constitutional right, that you can't have mandatory testing for inmates. In other words, can they refuse, or do they refuse?
Maglinger: I'm not aware of any Constitutional issues. It would be with that with testing. I would say it would be safer if it was voluntary for the inmate. It's just probably better that way ‘cause it is a pretty invasive test.
Miller: You said you didn't think mandatory testing would be a good idea because…?
Maglinger: I would think it would be a challenging thing at a jail our size, you know, where you're talking about over 600 inmates. So, our policy now is we are just testing anyone that's symptomatic or would be a risk, I should say, if they were suspected to be around somebody that was a positive case, like on the outside. Then just take proactive steps, and aggressive steps, everything within our power to keep the inmates and staff from getting it, the best precautions that you can take. No perfect thing in a jail setting. Most of us are working with older buildings. We’re all kind of breathing the same air, you know.
Miller: Thank you so much.
Maglinger: I appreciate your time. Thank you.