SALT LAKE CITY — Some Utah inmates may be released early, and some people may not go to jail at all, in an effort to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
Wayne County, in conjunction with the Utah Sheriff’s Association, announced Tuesday that in an effort “to minimize the impact and spread of COVID-19 to citizens, first responders, jail inmates, staff and deputy sheriffs ... Utah’s sheriffs are working with all of our federal, state, county and municipal partners, including the Utah Department of Corrections, to establish temporary protocols to keep exposure to a minimum.”
In a prepared statement signed by Wayne County Sheriff Dan Jensen and Sevier County Sheriff Nate Curtis, who is also president of the Utah Sheriff’s Association, and Scott Burns, executive director of the association, some jails may look at “early release for vulnerable inmates — including the elderly and people with underlying health problems — who don’t pose a physical safety risk to the public” as well as releasing inmates or offering bail “for those charged with minor crimes.”
It will be up to each sheriff to establish protocols and policies for their own jails, according to the statement.
“While sheriffs and their deputies always use their best judgment and discretion, there is a heightened need to look at any available alternative to incarceration if that is possible without exposing the public to danger. That said, no person will be released (or) issued a citation if that person is a risk to others,” the statement continued.
“It should be made clear that we will still do our jobs — and that includes arresting and incarcerating those charged with any crime(s) that pose a danger to others.”
In addition, each jail will train medical personnel and other staff members on how to detect signs of COVID-19, and extra soap and warm water will be provided to inmates.
Inmates will still have the access they need to attorneys and the courts.
“The worst thing that could happen is for people and communities to panic,” according to the statement. “Utah’s sheriffs will not panic but, rather, work with our citizens and our partners from across the state and the nation and, together we will get through this.”