Sheriff Travis Ash has implemented changes in the way prisoners are lodged at the Baker County Jail because of the coronavirus pandemic taking place throughout the state and the nation.

Although there have been no reports of anyone testing positive for the coronavirus Covid-19 in Baker County, Ash said his strategy is designed to keep the disease from entering the building.

“This jail (which opened in 1991) is old,” Ash said. “All air is shared.”

Because there is no way to isolate an inmate who might be ill with the virus, Ash said his plan is designed to keep illness out of the building, which in addition to the jail, houses the Sheriff’s Department and the 9-1-1 Dispatch Center.

“The Dispatch Center is critical for the county,” Ash said. “We’re trying to preserve the building as much as we can.”

The jail holds 45 prisoners, but there were just 22 in custody Wednesday. That extra space provides another layer of protection for the inmates and jail staff, Ash said.

Patrol deputies, who spend most of their time out in the field, come into the office as needed.

His employees self-report any illness and stay home if they are not well.

“We are still operating as normal, but we’re trying to limit the number of people coming and going,” Ash said.

Another change in policy calls for city, county and state police officers to only take into custody those who are required by law to be lodged at the jail. All others will be cited and released and given a date to appear in court.

Mandatory arrests would include suspects accused of domestic violence crimes, stalking, violating restraining orders, and failure to appear and no-bail warrants. Suspects in all Ballot Measure 11 crimes, such as murder, rape and robbery, also are required to be taken into custody. The Ballot Measure 11 crimes carry mandatory minimum prison terms upon conviction.

During normal times Baker County law enforcement officers place people accused of misdemeanor crimes in jail, unlike larger jurisdictions that don’t have the space, Ash said.

“We are unique,” he said. “We have room and we do house low-level misdemeanors.”

The reduction in people being taken into custody also coincides with a paring down of court hearings and trials in Baker County Circuit Court, Ash said.

Other steps taken to maintain a healthy environment at the jail include canceling all visitations, work release and work crew outings, Ash said.

The front door at the Sheriff’s Department has been closed and service to the public such as civil process work and fingerprinting will be conducted by appointment only.

More information is available by calling the Sheriff’s Office at 541-523-6415.

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