Like many county jails, Grayson County’s is making space for any COVID-19 precautions they may need to take by releasing some inmates.

Grayson County Sheriff Tom Watt said Wednesday that the jail population is normally right at 400 inmates and on Wednesday it was at 377. Those extra spaces, he said, will give the jail staff room to isolate anyone who might be diagnosed with COVID-19 and keep them in the jail.

Watt said the reduction is being done with and participation from the district judges and the District Attorney’s Office.

Everyone who presents at the Grayson County Jail, Watt said, is being checked for fever and other COVID-19 symptoms and that includes local police officers who are dropping off arrested persons.

Grayson County Jail is not alone in facing this situation jails across Texas are dealing with it too. The move to make space comes as the first inmate in a Texas prison tested positive for the virus in Galveston. That 37-year-old man has been isolated at the prison, according to an article in the Texas Tribune.

Watt said local judges, district attorneys and his staff are working together to try to keep that from happening in Grayson County by looking at individual cases to see which inmates can be released.

“I can’t actually release anyone,” Watt said, without an order from a judge.

“If there is a person who does need to (to be kept in jail) it is my job to find a place to keep them safely,” he said.

He said local police departments have been made aware of the tighter constraints on who will be offered a bed at the county’s jail and who won’t and are complying.

“This situation has been made manageable because of the assistance from the district Attorney and judges and because of the tremendous staff at the jail - there is just no quit in those folks. They just keep on going,” Watt said.

The situation becomes even more complex when one considers they not only have to watch the number of beds available, but they have to watch the classification of all of those inmates to make sure they don’t run afoul of standards set out by the Texas Commissioner on Jail Standards.

That body encouraged Texas Sheriffs to consider releasing those charged with non-violent misdemeanor offenses to make space for COVID-19 isolations in a letter according to media reports.

Smith and Montague have released in recent days and the Dallas County reported on Wednesday that one of its inmates tested positive for the virus. That inmate, a man in his 40s, is now longer in the jail according to information from the Dallas Morning News. Dallas County officials cited security concerns when refusing to say if the inmate had been hospitalized.

Dallas County Sheriff Marion Brown said all of the inmates in the 50-person pod with the one who tested positive had been separated from the rest of the population. Employees who came into contact with the inmate who tested positive have been quarantined.

Watt said his staff isn’t large enough to easily accommodate a large number of them being out on quarantine.

“It would present extraordinary challenges if our staff came down with the virus. I have faith in the leadership of our jail personnel though. They continually plan to deal with these obstacles,” he said.

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