Eau Claire County Jail preparing for COVID-19

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Nate Scheuermann

With the COVID-19 pandemic continuing to threaten Wisconsin, the Eau Claire County jail is taking precautionary steps to protect the inmates and staff at the facility.

The jail is implementing guidelines put in place by the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and the Eau Claire County Health Department. With these guidelines, the hope is everyone involved will face minimal risk of catching or spreading COVID-19. One of the many precautions in place is the release of huber inmates in good standing. However, the rapidly-evolving situation means that things could change quickly.

The steps the prison has put in place were outlined by Dan Bresina, captain of Security Services at the jail, during an April 8 press conference. They include social distancing,  increased cleaning, increased use of personal protective equipment, reduced staff, and the release of huber inmates in good standing. In addition, the jail is reducing the number of bookings during the pandemic to keep the incarcerated population lower. The jail has asked staff to stay home if they are showing symptoms.

“We’re going to have a phased action plan based on CDC guidelines and our health department’s direction. Part of those plans, for example, is our proper practices to medically isolate, per CDC guidelines, for all new arrests, and if we experience COVID-19 in our general population,” Bresina said.

The jail is providing masks and increased cleaning supplies for inmates, according to Bresina. In addition, inmates are still being allowed access to phones, the internet, and television so they can stay up to date on the changing situation.

Further steps were outlined in an April 26 memo from the jail. Those measures include active screening for staff, online or phone visits, and increased education about preventing the spread of the disease. In addition, the jail is encouraged to give those in isolation more time to promote mental health and physical activity while staying away from other inmates.

Despite these measures, the possibility of COVID-19 becoming widespread in the jail is still a concern. However, according to Security Services Lt. Dave Riewestahl, there is confidence in the guidelines put in place.

“We are confident in our plan to keep staff, inmates, and our facility safe,” he said. “Since no one step or measure is a guarantee to prevent it, we are using every step or measure that the Health Department has recommended.”

According to Bresina, the jail has released 138 huber inmates, or 49 percent of the jail’s population, as of April 8. Bresina added that those who were released  must “follow all their sentence guidelines, or face additional charges of huber revocation.”

Riewestahl said those who were released on huber will have access to support during the pandemic.

“We still have our jail re-entry social worker available to meet with those who are being released to help with planning needs,” he said. “She’s able to talk with them on the phone, video visits, and electronic messages.”

With the Safer at Home order having been overturned and the state beginning to reopen, Riewestahl said there is currently no plan to dial back precautions. He said the precautions are “in place to keep everyone safe and minimize the length of exposure.”

According to Riewestahl, there have been inmates who were showing symptoms.

“Yes, there have been cases and those individuals have been tested. Currently, there are no inmates in our facility with COVID-19.”