As of Monday, none of the 533 inmates at the Indian River County Jail had been tested for the coronavirus – because, according to Sheriff Deryl Loar, none had displayed any symptoms.
“We pre-screen any new inmate in a sterile environment,” Loar said, “before they enter the jail.”
As a result of the virus threat, however, the jail is holding eight inmates who normally wouldn’t be there.
That’s because the Florida Department of Corrections two weeks ago temporarily stopped accepting new, already-sentenced inmates in an effort to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 into the state prison system.
Prisoner transfers from county jails to state correctional facilities are scheduled to resume Monday, but DOC officials said in a statement released last week the timeline could change after they consult with public health officials.
While Florida sheriffs in some larger counties are concerned the DOC’s suspension of prisoner transfers will cause overcrowded conditions in their jails, Loar said the jail here isn’t at such risk.
“The jail isn’t overcrowded,” he said. “We can hold about 100 more.”
The would-be state prisoners, though, have created an additional expense. Loar said it costs $90 per day to house and feed each inmate at the jail – “provided there are no medical issues we have to cover” – and he has heard nothing from the DOC about reimbursement.
Loar said most of the eight prison-bound inmates here have been in jail for at least six months as they awaited their court dates and went through their trials. He doesn’t know when he’ll get clearance to transfer them to the DOC.
The DOC’s decision has left more than 800 sentenced-to-prison inmates in county jails around the state.
“There aren’t going to be any more trials through the rest of the week,” Loar said, citing the Florida Supreme Court chief justice’s order suspending criminal and civil trials from March 16 through March 27, “so at least we won’t be getting any more sentenced inmates.”
In his March 13 order, Florida Chief Justice Charles Canady also authorized local judges to use remote electronic systems to conduct legal proceedings whenever possible.
Loar said attorneys may still conduct face-to-face meetings with their clients, but the jail has a separate building equipped with video monitors used by other visitors.
He said his jail staff is enforcing 6-feet, social-distancing standards recommended by public health officials to limit potential exposure to the virus.