Jail space becomes bigger challenge during pandemic

Incarceration procedures have been affected by the pandemic.
Incarceration procedures have been affected by the pandemic.(Laura Bowen)
Published: Jan. 25, 2021 at 10:17 PM EST
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PARKERSBURG, W.Va. (WTAP) - 2020 was a roller-coaster of a year for everyone, including law enforcement. Athens County Sheriff Rodney Smith gave us a look back at 2020 through his perspective.

March marked a shift in Athens County’s law enforcement practices. With the danger and uncertainty surrounding the pandemic, law enforcement minimized contact as much as they could. Sheriff Smith said this meant only responding to emergency calls for four or five weeks. During that time, crime rates went up. For instance, there were more drug deals.

Since then, Athens County police have shifted closer to normalcy. Still, Smith said police try to deal with issues over the phone and email whenever possible.

Covid has also impacted incarceration procedures. For instance, inmates could not be transferred into or out of counties in the red.

The biggest challenge in 2020 was jail space.

Smith said, “For a while, prisons wasn’t accepting anyone into prisons so that was an overpopulation of our jail as well so the state prison institution said no we’re not taking anybody right now for those months. So what do you do with them? Now they’re in a local county jail so now we’re overpopulated and, to add to the problems, with the Covid-19, we just run out of jail space.”

Smith said prisons are accepting new people now. However, capacity is still an issue. Smith said jail space was a challenge even before the pandemic but has gotten much worse.

Smith added that the jail population is typically at capacity during Covid. He clarified that capacity is determined by the correctional officers to inmates ratio.

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