WINCHESTER — In the month since about 110 inmates were released early from the regional jail to reduce the risk of a coronavirus outbreak, about 77% have not returned.
About 60 of the inmates released from the Northwestern Regional Adult Detention Center on Fort Collier were placed on probation, according to Bradley B. Triplett, Department of Probation and Parole District 11 deputy chief probation and parole officer. About 25 have been arrested since being released. Triplett said those arrested weren't charged with violent crimes. Most were drug-related offenses including positive drug tests and a handful of overdoses.
District 11, which covers Winchester as well as Clarke, Frederick, Shenandoah and Warren counties, has a staff of 26 including 13 regular probation officers. They oversee about 1,750 probationers.
Regular probation officers each oversee about 100 probationers, according to Tessie Lam, the district's chief probation and parole officer. The early releases increase the workload of the probation officers — the district has three unfilled positions — but Lam said the decision was up to judges.
"Our responsibility is for the protection of the community and to abide by what the courts want done with these cases," she said. "We're going to do what we're asked to do."
Jail staff presented prosecutors with the names of inmates being considered for early release, and prosecutors who objected made their concerns known at court hearings. Most of the inmates were within 60 days of their release date and nearly all had charges in Frederick or Winchester circuit courts. Just one inmate convicted in Clarke County Circuit Court was released.
The releases have reduced the jail population nearly 20% from a daily average of 635 over the last five years to 510 on Wednesday, according to Capt. Clay Corbin, commander of the community corrections division. Fewer inmates means more space, allowing the jail to have room for quarantine pods should they be needed. However, Corbin said no inmates or staff have been diagnosed with COVID-19.
Because social distancing is difficult in jails and prisons, which are often cramped, they are can be breeding grounds for diseases. There have been outbreaks of the coronavirus in jails and prisons around the country.
Through Tuesday, two inmates have died in Virginia prisons and 456 have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the Virginia Department of Corrections, which houses about 29,000 prisoners. The DOC website said 64 staff have been diagnosed, but listed no deaths.
Because jails hold inmates for far shorter periods than prisons — the average stay at Northwestern is 28 days — they are more vulnerable to diseases like COVID-19.