Corrections is a challenging public safety career with high-risk, dangerous situations. How officers handle these challenges often goes unnoticed due to the secure environment in which they work. The current global pandemic brings exceptional burden to the difficult task of providing security to the community while also providing protection to those in custody.

North Dakota county and regional jail staff have embraced the challenges and have consistently provided an environment with very limited cases of COVID-19. Jail staff have been quick to adopt recommendations from the North Dakota Department of Health and the CDC, recognizing that jails are high-risk environments susceptible to infection because of their close-quarter congregate settings. As a result, facilities have established extensive procedures including screenings, PPE, quarantine, isolation, testing and extensive cleaning and sanitizing to keep the risk of COVID-19 entering the facilities at a very low level.

Around the country, many jails have fallen victim to mass outbreaks resulting in an excessive burden and exhaustion of the local health care system. On June 25, the Washington Post reported that more than 46,000 imprisoned people in the United States had tested positive for COVID-19 and nearly 550 had died. Even with additional safety measures, the potential for a COVID-19 outbreak forces us to weigh the need to incarcerate people for community crimes against the safety risks to staff and inmates due to increased jail populations. An outbreak in a correctional facility could overwhelm local hospitals to a point where they would have limited resources for the community, as it did in Joliet, Illinois.

County and regional jails in North Dakota serve as holding facilities for city, county, state and federal inmates. North Dakota sheriffs, administrators and officers have been battling a nearly impossible task but have been doing a great job. North Dakota jails have had zero deaths due to COVID-19, and no jails have had a mass outbreak. A few individual positive cases have been identified in jails, but the jails have been successful in identifying these persons and isolating them quickly to avoid the spread of COVID-19. We’re grateful for the capable leadership and staff in our county and regional corrections system, and they remain as committed as ever to ensuring a safe, healthy, and secure environment at correctional facilities across the state.

Lance Anderson is deputy director of Facility Inspections/Transitional Facilities for the North Dakota Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.

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