As COVID-19 cases spike throughout the state, the virus is making its way into Utah’s prison and jails, infecting three inmates at the Utah State Prison, one at Weber County Jail, 23 at Salt Lake County Jail, and 11 at Bonneville Community Correctional Center, a halfway house in Salt Lake City.
At the Utah State Prison in Draper, two inmates with the coronavirus have recovered so far and one is in self-isolation. Kaitlin Felsted, spokeswoman for the Utah Department of Corrections, said all three inmates were brought in from county jails.
“We have worked closely with local health officials on taking every precaution to prevent community spread,” she wrote in an email.
Felsted said the department is continuing to take precautions to protect inmates and staff. This includes suspending visiting and volunteering, providing signs with information on how to prevent the spread of the virus, providing masks, and teaching staff and inmates how to use personal protective equipment.
Weber County Jail had its first inmate test positive Sunday.
“We began contact tracing immediately and tried to find out who all could be at risk,” Sheriff’s Lt. Joshua Marigoni said in an interview. “And taking appropriate measure with those people as far as moving them to isolation or getting tests as appropriate.”
The inmate is in isolation and being cared for by the jail’s medical staff. Marigoni said the facility has raised safety requirements since the beginning of the pandemic.
Each jail inmate was issued a mask several months ago, and face coverings are available to staff members and required for visitors. The jail has also mandated that employees and visitors be screened for COVID-19 symptoms before entering the facility.
“The health and well-being of our employees and those incarcerated in our facility is very important to us,” the sheriff’s office said in a press release. “We will be working with the Weber-Morgan Health Department to perform additional tests for both staff and inmates.”
Marigoni said the jail is taking steps to reduce community spread and analyzing its intake numbers daily.
“We’re being very stringent on who we’ll accept into the jail,” he told The Tribune. “Depending on charges, symptoms, exposures, things like that.”
Utah County Jail is also being more selective about the number of inmates it takes during the pandemic.
Utah County Sheriff’s Sgt. Spencer Cannon said a woman brought in by Saratoga Springs police was released to her family after testing positive for the virus.
The woman, who was asymptomatic, never left the pre-booking area and entered the jail. Her positive results came back after a routine medical screening — which now requires a coronavirus test for everyone who is booked into jail.
She signed a document promising to appear for her court date, and the jail deep-cleaned the area after she left.
Cannon said the Utah County Jail, which usually holds 800 to 900 inmates, now has a population of just over 300 people.
If someone commits a major crime like domestic violence, driving under the influence or homicide, they are still held in jail, but Utahns who commit lesser crimes are being released in an effort to avoid overcrowding.
Cannon said a few of the jail’s employees have tested positive for COVID-19, but it was determined that they were infected outside of the facility.
Salt Lake County Jail has the highest number of COVID-19 cases at a Utah detention facility, with 23 inmates and 29 staff testing positive so far. Twenty-two of the inmates have recovered, Sgt. Carrie Fisher said, and staff members are taking steps to avoid community spread of the virus and to keep new inmates from bringing it to the jail.
All inmates were given a cloth mask, and they have been taught the importance of good hygiene and sanitation practices. Each inmate admitted to the facility also has a mandatory 30-day quarantine.
Clarification: 6/23/20 6:45 p.m. Twenty-two of the 23 inmates infected at the Salt Lake County Jail have recovered, officials said.