Some Douglas County Jail inmates could be released on furloughs if sick or at risk of COVID-19

photo by: Mike Yoder/Journal-World File Photo

The Douglas County Jail is shown in this file photo from February 2015.

Inmates serving sentences in the Douglas County Jail could be released on 14-day furloughs without court hearings if they are at risk for, or actively suffering from, the coronavirus disease, COVID-19, according to a court order.

The Douglas County District Court administrative order, issued Thursday, also stipulates that if the sheriff determines a “pre-conviction status” inmate who is being held on bond may be ill or at risk, the sheriff should request an “immediate hearing.”

The order authorizes the Douglas County sheriff to adopt guidelines for determining whether a person in custody is at risk or suffering from COVID-19.

Then, “upon making such a determination as to any individual in custody, and when the Sheriff determines that the overall circumstances warrant, for the, health, safety and/or security of jail staff and/or other inmates, immediate release without further opportunity for hearing,” the sheriff may provide inmates who are serving sentences at the county jail with a notice of furlough.

For pre-conviction inmates, the division judge “shall be responsible for making (a request for a hearing from the sheriff) its first priority for hearing over any other court business,” according to the order.

The furlough notice spells out that inmates are “encouraged to seek independent medical advice and examination immediately upon release,” and jail staff will provide a time 14 days later when inmates must return and complete the balance of their sentence. If they don’t, they could face a warrant and further criminal charges, unless the jail determines that they still present a risk to the health of jail staff and inmates.

The notice also states that those on furlough are not to use drugs or alcohol, and that they will be subject to testing upon return to the jail.

Jenn Hethcoat, public information officer for the sheriff’s office, said in an email Thursday that a medical evaluation, by 24-hour medical staff, is part of intake for every individual who is booked into the jail and that the jail’s original design can accommodate needs such as a medical quarantine. The separate order from the court authorizes the sheriff to exercise more discretion.

Typically, sentences to time in county jails, rather than state prisons, are for misdemeanor offenses. It is not uncommon for defendants to be booked into the Douglas County Jail on 48-hour sentences, for instance. Sometimes judges will sentence defendants including convicted felons to probation but, as a condition of probation, they must serve up to 60 days in jail.

Visitation has been canceled at all Kansas Department of Corrections facilities — state prisons — until further notice, according to a Friday evening news release from KDOC. It was not immediately clear Friday night whether the Douglas County Jail has made any changes to its visitation policy.

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