In more than a week’s time, roughly 200 Hall County Jail inmates were released as the courts and Hall County Sheriff’s Office administration are working to manage the jail population amid the coronavirus outbreak.
Following a statewide judicial emergency order, trials and other court matters were delayed. Bond hearings and some pleas for jailed defendants will be heard during this time, Northeastern Judicial Circuit District Attorney Lee Darragh said.
“With public safety and protection of victims at the forefront always, during this crisis it was appropriate to work with the courts and the sheriff to agree to some lower bond amounts or (own recognizance) releases so long as the public is not endangered,” Darragh said in a statement.
Those released include nonviolent offenders held on misdemeanor offenses and inmates over the age of 60 “who didn’t pose a risk to the community,” Sheriff’s Office spokesman Derreck Booth wrote in a news release.
“Based on court system input, jail personnel began releasing approximately 200 inmates early last week, reducing the inmate population to roughly 500 over a week’s time. Some of the 200 were released as a result of routine bond or time served,” Booth wrote.
In the past, Hall County Solicitor General Stephanie Woodard said there have been discussions between court officials and jail administration on an individual basis, such as an inmate suffering cardiac distress or pulmonary issues.
“Consideration of health and wellness of a defendant is something that absolutely gets folded into considerations in regard to pre-trial bond as well as sometimes incarceration for sentences and different things like that. This isn’t necessarily anything that’s out of the norm. It’s just the first time that it’s been done during my tenure as solicitor general in response to a public health crisis,” Woodard said.
Woodard’s office began reviewing the jail population and looked at those who had a State Court sentence or State Court arrest warrant, which could be probation or pre-adjudication.
For probation warrants, these could be technicalities such as not finishing community service, not attending a counseling session or not paying fines.
They then considered inmates based on public safety risk, potentially compromised health statuses and if they have served time already deemed “appropriate considering it time served enough in light of this very unique public health circumstance,” Woodard said.
The result was roughly 100 misdemeanor holds resolved, but that does not correlate to 100 releases because the inmate could also have a felony hold. Darragh and Woodard did not have estimates on how many people were released who were under their respective purviews.
“If we could let them out on bond with either tracking or some sort of treatment or screening or oversight in place that they didn’t have to be in the jail, those are the steps that we took,” Woodard said.
The Hall County Jail has suspended any on-property visitation, but online video visitation is still possible.
Users set up an account through Securus and can schedule a video visit. The inmate stays in the housing area and has the video visit via a terminal. The Hall County Sheriff’s Office reached an agreement with Securus in October 2015.
Booth said the staffing levels at the jail are the same as they were in the past several months.
“Because the releases are so current, it’s too early to tell about operating cost impact,” Booth said.
Those booked in to the jail are being screened “based on the known symptoms” of the coronavirus. Increased cleaning and sanitizing is being done in places such as the booking area, lobby, employee entrance, courtroom and work release area.