WINCHESTER — About a dozen inmates on a list of 48 have been released from the regional jail to prevent the spread of the coronavirus and up to 20 more may be released on Home Electronic Monitoring soon.
The 48 — including 21 under the jurisdiction of the state Department of Corrections — are non-violent offenders, according to Clay A. Corbin, Northwestern Regional Adult Detention Center superintendent.
"You walk a tight line. You want to protect the inmates that are in here, but at the same time we're trying to protect the community," he said. "You don't want to put the community in danger."
Cramped conditions at jails and prisons make them disease incubators, and at least 2,500 correctional officers and inmates have died nationally from the virus, according to the New York Times. That includes 54 inmates and three staff in Virginia, according to the DOC.
But there have been no deaths or serious illnesses at the jail here, according to Corbin. He said most of the 155 inmates and six staff diagnosed last month with the virus are no longer positive after completing a 10-day quarantine.
Test results for about 400 inmates done Tuesday are expected back soon, which Corbin anticipates will mean more quarantining.
When about 60 inmates were released in March shortly after the virus was declared a pandemic, a court hearing was held. But to prevent the risk of spreading the virus in court, Corbin said lists of the inmates recommended for release were sent to the commonwealth's attorneys offices in Frederick County and Winchester in December. The area public defender's office was given a copy of the lists last month. District 11 of the Department of Parole & Probation, which supervises offenders in Winchester as well as Clarke, Frederick, Shenandoah and Warren counties, also was consulted.
Eighteen inmates were on the Frederick County list and nine on Winchester's list. Andrew M. Robbins, county deputy commonwealth's attorney, said he reviewed six of the 18 names submitted and approved four. The other two were rejected because they hadn't served the amount of time agreed upon in their plea bargains.
"I felt it would go back on the agreement if they were to get out of jail earlier than we had agreed," he said. "The commonwealth had bargained for that amount of time."
Marc H. Abrams, Winchester Commonwealth's attorney, said three of the nine on the list were released in January because their sentences expired and another is to be released when her or his sentence ends next week. Abrams approved releasing two of the remainder and rejected three. The denials were for varying reasons including having served multiple sentences. "Having multiple incarcerations and having it not change their behavior, it's kind of hard to reward that by just letting them go," he said.
Corbin said he's awaiting a decision from the DOC about the remaining inmates. He said approval has been delayed because jails around the state are making the same requests. In Virginia, inmates sentenced to more than a year are supposed to be sent from jails to prisons within 90 days of being sentenced. However, they often stay longer due to prison overcrowding — there are roughly 24,000 inmates and prisoners in Virginia — and Corbin said the pandemic has made prisons more reluctant to accept inmates who have sentences of 18 months or less.
Of the 636 inmates at the jail on Wednesday, 196 — about 30% — are DOC prisoners. Corbin said it was between 80 and 90 inmates a year ago.
It costs $89 per day and $32,485 annually to house an inmate at the jail at 141 Fort Collier Road. But the DOC only pays $12 per day for inmates. Taxpayers in Winchester, Clarke Fauquier and Frederick counties, whose communities the jail serves, pay the difference.