Lorain County Jail restricts visits, boosts video to deal with coronavirus | Lorain County
Novel coronavirus pandemic precautions will continue and some of those may make the holiday season
Novel coronavirus pandemic precautions will continue and some of those may make the holiday season a little easier for inmates at the Lorain County Jail this year, said a leading administrator at the facility.
The Lorain County Jail, 9896 Murray Ridge Road in Elyria, has had months of health checks to avoid the spread of COVID-19 inside, said Assistant Jail Administrator Melissa Fischer.
Fischer and Assistant Jail Administrator James Gordon oversee operations of the 422-bed facility under Dennis Cavanaugh, chief deputy to Lorain County Sheriff Phil Stammitti.
This month, Fischer described the changes that have taken place in response to COVID-19.
Some of the same measures may improve online communications for inmates and their families, and may remain in place in the future when coronavirus ceases to be a problem, she said.
Checking for symptoms
Precautions for COVID-19 start as soon as arrestee is removed from a police vehicle with everyone issued a mask before they walk in the door.
“Masks are required by everyone, staff and inmates alike,” Fischer said. “We do have quarantine protocols in place so that anyone determined to be under suspicion for any reason by medical are immediately placed in quarantine.”
The jail also conducts COVID-19 testing when needed, she said.
Not every inmate is tested upon arrival, but there is a formal screening with questions about their health conditions.
The jail has shut to many visits from outsiders due to the pandemic.
As the pandemic spread, jail staff worked with vendor ICSolutions to expand remote visitation for inmates.
“This gives family members the ability to connect face-to-face with the family member during their period of incarceration,” Fischer said.
Family communications do not happen on demand.
With several hundred inmates, the jail has a regimented schedule and families must schedule specific times to communicate with inmates, Fischer said.
The jail staff have tried to minimize overall movement within the facility to avoid potential exposures, she said.
Family visitation was not the only restriction due to the coronavirus.
“During COVID, we had to restrict outside agencies from providing on-site services,” Fischer said. “However, the video visitation system has been instrumental in continuing services remotely with community service providers accessing the inmates to conduct assessments, peer support services, et cetera.
“The jail is adding televisions in female housing and the male classroom so that we can continue group counseling, telehealth services and support services. The jail will use platforms such as the online meeting program Zoom to include church services and Alcoholics Anonymous.”
Inmates can access members of their clergy for free with the video visitation or calling system.
Various local courts, children’s services staff and probation officers also have used the teleconferencing with inmates, Fischer said.
She predicted the technology likely will remain in place after the pandemic conditions have passed.
“That video visitation, opening that up has just been a great thing during COVID,” Fischer said.
The jail this year expanded video court services so that defendants can attend hearings without being transported to the court, Fischer said.
The jail continues to allow lawyers in to meet with inmates about court cases.
The attorney rooms have glass dividers to separate the attorneys and the clients, so there is minimal risk of transmitting COVID-19, Fischer said.
By Ohio law, county grand juries must make regular inspections of county jails, Fischer said.
That has been delayed due to COVID-19 to limit exposure among inmates, staff and people from outside, she said.
The jail leaders do a full presentation and offer a tour of the jail.
The grand jurors get a sit-down dinner of the meal that inmates are eating that day, then make a final report of their findings to the county sheriff, Fischer said.
This year, the jail passed its annual inspection conducted by Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections.
The administrators are awaiting annual recertification of the accrediting body, the National Commission on Correctional Health Care, Fischer said.
The jail commissary operates like a market with and array of items that inmates can order and pay for.
“It’s candy bars, pop and all those things that typically maybe they would get on the outside that they’re not going to get with their food here,” Fischer said.
The list includes soap, shampoo, combs and grooming items.
Jails across the nation operate commissaries and it is not unique to Lorain County, Fischer said.
Inmates use a touchscreen computer system to select items and they pay for them with money they have when they are booked into the jail.
Family members also may add money to their accounts.
The operator, Keefe Commissary Network, processes orders and delivers them weekly to the jail, Fischer said.
The commissary has premade packages of items and family members may select those as gifts for inmates, she said.
This year, the Lorain County Sheriff’s Office bid out its food service program.
Tigg’s Canteen Services of Coldwater, Mich., replaced Aramark, which had a good relationship with the county jail, Fischer said.
Tigg’s Canteen Services operates largely in Michigan and Indiana, but it was the first time in Lorain County.
The company hires local workers to prepare the food and trains trusted inmates to assist.
The inmates must pass a health screening for jobs, Fischer added.
“Just overall the quality of food is better,” she said.
The company was planning a traditional turkey meal for Thanksgiving and a ham dinner on Christmas, Fischer said.