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Twin Falls County exploring options to deal with overcrowding and COVID-19 at jail

125 inmates and eight staff members have tested positive
Published: Jul. 30, 2020 at 7:13 AM MDT
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TWIN FALLS, Idaho (KMVT/KSVT) - The number of inmates testing positive for COVID-19 at the Twin Falls County jail has gone up more than 230 percent over the course of seven days.

Last week the facility had 37 inmates that tested positive for COVID-19 that number is now at 125, including eight positive staff members.

“We have done everything we can do to control this thing and it’s still not enough. . . and we still have no idea how this entered our facility,” said Tom Carter, Twin Falls County Sheriff.

The sheriff said four inmates and four staff members have also refused to take the test, but Carter said, “That is absolutely their prerogative. I am not here to force anybody to take an invasive test, and I had it done myself and it’s not a pleasant experience”.

He said the overall majority of the cases are asymptomatic, with only one person requiring hospitalization. He also said inmates and staff are currently required to wear face masks in the facility, along with daily temperature checks and an enhanced cleaning schedule, but the major problem is that social distancing is nearly impossible within the jail.

“I think our count today was 263, and we have 194 beds. What that tells you is the facility is full,” said Carter.

The county and the sheriff's department are exploring possible solutions to alleviate overcrowding like bringing in modular units, but the idea that is gaining some traction is a 6,000 sq foot expansion to the jail, which was presented to the county commissioners by Peterson Brothers Construction on Tuesday.

“I would like to see that decision made in the next two weeks, because we need to get moving on this and solve the problem as quickly as we can. . .we have reached a crisis proportion here,” Bob Beer, facility director for Twin Falls County.

Beer said he likes the idea of expansion because it has more long term use and modular units are strictly for housing, and would become useless once the jail population returns to normal.

“Reduce the population in the jail and then we would use the space we are adding for programming space and that would be medical, dental, and other amenities for the prisoners,” said Beer.

He also said its an “either/or” when its comes to the modular or expansion option, because the county can only add 25 percent square footage over what it currently has at the jail without going out for a special use permit, because of how the property is zoned and where it is located at.

However, Carter said modular units are a quick fix and could arrive in a few weeks and house more than 100 inmates almost immediately, and expansion could take some time. . . or not as long, from what has been told.

“120 days. They are saying this can be built in 120 days, and bless their hearts if that can happen,” said Carter.

The sheriff said he also received word that the Idaho Department of Corrections will start “prioritizing” transfers for the 80 inmates at the county jail who have been sentenced to the IDOH, but have not been transferred because the IDOH has stopped acceptance during the COVID-19 crisis.

However, he has not received word when that will take place or how many they will take.

At this time nothing is final or set in stone, and Beer said the expansion proposal still has to go through a design and budgeting process before a final decision can be rendered on it.

Copyright 2020 KMVT/KSVT. All rights reserved.

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