By HEATHER WALTERS
Colleton County officials continue to operate the local jail under a strict no-visitor policy while using technology to conduct virtual bond hearings. This is being done as part of an ongoing effort to keep COVID-19 out of the detention center.
To date, there have been zero confirmed cases of the Coronavirus among inmates at the Colleton County Detention Center, according to Capt. Shane Roberts, director of the local detention center.
Since COVID-19 began circulating the Lowcountry in March of 2020, the county jail has been operating under different housing regulations than the protocols in place before the pandemic.
While there is no state mandate preventing housing inmates who are positive with COVID-19 at the jail, there are changes to court procedures preventing low-level offenders from being held at county detention facilities for an extended period, said Roberts in a recent interview.
“Individuals charged with more serious crimes are held,” he said. “If an inmate is diagnosed with Covid-19, isolation, and medical protocols are implemented to reduce further exposure.”
However, Colleton County has had no confirmed cases of the virus among its inmates, said Roberts.
The jail follows all protocols from the Center for Disease Control, the S.C. Department of Corrections, and the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control.
Some of these guidelines include changing how bond hearings are held to prevent gatherings of people during the pandemic. According to Roberts, the jail implemented video technology that allows for court hearings to continue virtually. This is one way that exposure to the virus is limited.
“This ensures court cases do not become stagnant and create an increase in the inmate population,” he said. “Once the court has sentenced individuals, they are processed and transferred to SCDOC (S.C. Department of Corrections). This helps reduce exposures to the virus,” he said.
Another way that Roberts is working to prevent exposure to COVID-19 is by screening detention officers daily.
“The first step is ensuring officers are screened daily for symptoms of the virus. Any officer exhibiting symptoms of the virus is tested and not allowed in the facility until a negative Covid-19 test is received,” he said. “Officers have increased awareness of their surroundings and strive to avoid placing themselves in vulnerable positions that may allow them to contract the virus.”
Roberts said officers are also cleaning the county jail “numerous times each day.”
Officers and inmates are also required to wear masks, especially during recreation time.
Additionally, all visitation inside the jail has stopped. This is in accordance with an order issued by S.C. Governor Henry McMaster. “Per the Governor’s order, all inmate visitation inside the facility is suspended until further notice,” said Roberts. “However, the Colleton County Detention Center implemented remote video installation, allowing inmates to visit with their families,” he said. “Inmates continue to have access to phones, mail, and a messaging system, allowing them to contact their family and friends.
Lastly, Roberts has created a new temporary booking area at the local jail. This is a designated area where inmates are held until their bond hearing.
“This allows the inmate to have their bond hearing remotely, without contacting other inmates,” he said. “During this time, inmates are screened for virus symptoms.”
According to Roberts, jail protocols right now require that if a person is arrested and then given a PR Bond (Personal Recognizance Bond), then they are released. If the person cannot post bond, they are then placed in a quarantined area for “some time,” he said. “If an inmate does not exhibit any symptoms during this period, detention officers move that inmate to another area of the facility,” he said.
Roberts said none of these new protocols at the detention center have compromised anyone’s safety or the security of officers or the community.
“Each officer plays an integral role in reducing the chances of the facility being exposed to the virus,” he said. “Despite the increased job duties, officers continue to show outstanding professionalism and dedication for their job.” As the pandemic continues, and the number of positive COVID-19 cases are spiking in South Carolina, Roberts said local law enforcement leaders have not been given updates from the state about when these new standards can be adjusted, and routine procedures can resume.
Currently, the inmate population at the Colleton County Detention Center is 64 inmates.