TUPELO, Miss. (WTVA) -- Jails continue to operate during the public health crisis. The safety of inmates comes to concern.
Lee County Jail in Tupelo shared how its staff is working to try and keep the coronavirus out of their facility.
Inmates are seeing little change in how they live inside during the pandemic. One new thing is the screening process prisoners have to go through before they are allowed admittance.
The jail and the Sheriff’s office have almost shut down public access to the facility. Public access is limited. Visitation with inmates is cancelled, and business such as background checks is done online.
“The safety of our citizens and their livelihood is of our utmost importance and my priority,” said Lee County Sheriff Jim Johnson.
According to Johnson, the jail has not had a single coronavirus case since the pandemic began. However, coronavirus guidelines have proven challenging to follow.
“Unfortunately the way our housing situation is, there is absolutely no way to quarantine people down here or do social distancing,” he said.
He added the jail was in line to get a new facility several years ago, but they did not receive it.
“We’re stuck in the same building with the same problems, and now you’ve compounded those problems with this COVID issue, that we’re not prepared to deal with.”
He described inmate admittance. Each inmate has to go through a screening process, approved by the jail’s medical staff, before he or she is allowed inside. That process includes temperature checks and filling out a questionnaire.
“It’s just general questions. It’s very quick, and, you know, I couldn’t tell you but it’s going to be a very, very low number of individuals that we’ve turned away because they answered the question that caused a red flag.”
He wouldn’t share what the coronavirus-directed questions are to keep the integrity of the test. He didn’t want to give away the correct answers.
The jail does not test new inmates for the coronavirus unless they show symptoms. He said all tests they have done so far have been negative.
In the event of a positive case, Johnson said the plan is to begin quarantining prisoners next door at the Juvenile Detention Center.
The center has fewer people inside right now in case the jail needs to quarantine. According to the Sheriff, most days it has none.
“Since it’s not in here, we hope we can quarantine the virus outside, and not allow the thing to get in, so I think quarantine, we’re doing it, it’s just a different manner of quarantine than what you think.”
The sheriff added inmates do not wear masks inside the jail because they are all essentially mass-quarantined from the outside world.
If any inmates leave the jail, such as to go to court, then they do receive a medical face mask.