Sheriff Bill Brown has implemented new policies in the County Jail to prevent the novel coronavirus from spreading into the jail.
Jail employees have been using screening models recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for “the past several weeks,” said Raquel Zick, spokeswoman for the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office.
The screenings include questions about travel, known contact with a positive case, and taking inmate temperatures.
“We have been instructing inmates and staff on methods to stay healthy. Clean commonly touched surfaces often, frequent hand washing with soap and water, covering coughs and sneezes, and social distancing when possible,” Ms. Zick said.
“We have pushed out cleaning supplies and increased cleanup details to encourage keeping the facility clean,” she said.
The County Jail has an inventory of personal protection equipment. Jail staff will distribute the equipment if they find any suspected or confirmed COVID-19 cases.
COVID-19 is the illness caused by the new coronavirus.
“We continue to monitor local, State, and Federal guidance surrounding COVID-19, and are prepared to take appropriate actions to keep our inmate population, staff, and the public safe,” Ms. Zick said.
On Saturday, County Jail staff suspended inmate visitation until further notice.
Public Defender Tracy Macuga said her office is working to identify the inmates that the County Jail staff should release immediately because they are at heightened risk of contracting COVID-19, such as those over 60 and those with medical conditions.
“We are asking for the release of inmates who are at heightened risk of contracting COVID-19 and who present a low safety risk to the community,” Public Defender’s Office Chief Trial Deputy Lea Villegas said.
“Our clients are living in close proximity to one another with poor ventilation, lacking the opportunity to self-sanitize and practice social distancing. They are required to eat, sleep, and shower in shared living spaces,” Ms. Macuga said in a press release.
“By releasing vulnerable detainees, who present a low risk of harm to the community, we will allow the jail staff to better implement recommended preventative measures such as social distancing, frequent hand washing, and cleaning of surfaces.”
Ms. Macuga explained that inmates use hygiene kits known as “Indigent Kits” or “Fish Kits” to keep clean.
The kit contains a pencil, a razor, a toothbrush, toothpaste, a comb, and a bar of soap, but only one kit is distributed to inmates each week.
Senior Deputy Public Defender Mark Saatjian said the soap in the kit is the size of a small business card and is used to wash the body and hair.
“This is the soap you use for showering. This is the soap for hand washing after using the bathroom. If you want to wash your hair, you rub the same little bar of soap into your hair,” Mr. Saatjian said.
Defense attorney Robert Sanger, senior partner with Sanger Swysen & Dunkle, said attorneys could meet with clients in County Jail as of Monday. He noted the situation is constantly developing.
“We cannot have what they call contact visits, so you can’t be with the client in the room. You have to talk through the glass and over a phone,” Mr. Sanger said.
“I believe that the courts are working with us to try to resolve issues. I am concerned about people remaining in custody In the jail. I am hoping that there will be a more liberal policy towards releasing people, on for instance GPS electronic monitoring, while they are pending the outcome of their case.”
Mr. Sanger said that inmates can communicate with their attorneys by email, but County Jail staff monitors that communication.