WASHINGTON — Remarkably, the Daviess County Security Center still has only had one reported case of COVID-19 since the pandemic began. That prisoner and the officers who dealt with him have all recovered. But the impact of the coronavirus on jail operations and policing continues to be felt.
“We still do not have the work release open,” said Sheriff Gary Allison. “We also are trying to keep our jail population down by relying more on summonses to court and less on arrests.
“When we do arrest someone then we have them checked and then they go into a 14-day quarantine before being moved into the general population.”
Police say that if what they are being told by suspects at the time of arrest the county is actually being overrun by the virus.
“That is the thing our officers hear all the time,” said Allison. “They go to make an arrest and the offender says they either have COVID-19 or they have been exposed to it.
“Funny though, we still are at a single case.”
The disease has had a substantial impact on the jail. With the work release program shut down and fewer arrests the jail population dropped from nearly 200 prisoners per day to a little more than 100.
“The place we see the impact is in the amount of money we are spending on food,” said Allison. “With that many fewer mouths to feed we have spent a lot less.”
Another place the county jail is seeing a change resulting from the virus is the way the state approaches paying for inmates being held by local authorities.
“They just are paying out a flat-fee now,” said Allison. “It doesn’t matter how many of their prisoners we hold or for how long. We get a flat payment of $88,000.”
The changes in operations and the way the funds are being used is producing a year with financial caveats as the jail prepares its budget for the coming year.
The sheriff is supposed to present his budget proposal for 2021 in a few weeks, but based on the changes at the jail under COVID-19 restrictions the needs and those that might be anticipated are going to be much different than what the county has spent this year.
“I expect we will be questioned about the expenditures this year when the council holds budget hearings in August,” said Allison.
Building the potential budget for 2021 will involve a lot of unknowns. Officials have not set a date for the work release to reopen. Other changes may depend on how the state responds to funding programs what the plans will be for the operation of the jail moving through pandemic.
“There are some unknowns out there and we will present the council with the best budget we can given what we know right now,” said Allison.