After some local attorneys sounded the alarm over Silverdale Detention Center's lack of precautions during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Hamilton County Sheriff's Office says it has addressed the concerns and is working to make remote attorney-client communication available.
On Thursday, attorney Stephanie Rogers, who recently visited a client housed at Silverdale, said staff members were not wearing gloves or masks. Rogers and another attorney, Brandy Spurgin-Floyd, both said their clients reported that staff hadn't been informing inmates about the coronavirus pandemic. They were learning from newly booked detainees who were "scaring people," they said.
While Hamilton County Sheriff Jim Hammond denied that inmates were unaware of the pandemic, he acknowledged the jail populations' vulnerability to an outbreak.
"We've got a real powder keg when it comes to a correctional facility," he said Thursday. "The type of people you house in there already are at risk, health wise. We need to have extra measures in place to protect them and to protect the public."
On Friday, Hammond said his office has "addressed the concerns that were brought to our attention by the legal community and currently, operations at Silverdale are running smoothly and meeting my expectations."
"We are in constant contact with all of our facilities, including Silverdale Detention Center, to guide, monitor and support them in their prevention and mitigation efforts of the COVID-19 pandemic," CoreCivic spokesman Ryan Gustin said in an email.
CoreCivic is the private prison operator that manages the detention center.
"Simultaneously, we continue to work closely with Hamilton County Sheriff's Office officials to ensure that Silverdale's processes and procedures are consistent with their expectations," Gustin said.
Also on Friday, sheriff's office personnel started working to implement a system for attorneys to communicate with their clients remotely.
The downtown jail already has attorney-client video conference capabilities, but Silverdale didn't because CoreCivic contracts with a different vendor, said Chief Deputy Austin Garrett.
In the meantime, sheriff's office personnel began "deploying and testing a number of IPads to be used via FaceTime to mitigate this issue," Hammond said in a statement. "The Sheriff's Office's expectation is for this process to be implemented of the highest priority."
By Friday late afternoon, the process had been tested by two local attorneys, and Garrett said he expected that by Monday, attorneys should be able to contact CoreCivic's administrative offices to schedule calls.
The system is only a temporary solution, Garrett said, acknowledging that it's limited to people who have an Apple device.
"Going forward, we are going to still engage CoreCivic to see if there is a solution long-term that we could begin using and keep in place," he said.
In the long run, Garrett said, the goal would be to use video technology for court hearings, as well.
"It's convenient for attorneys, it's less cost to taxpayers — we're not having to transport people — we're not having to schedule visits," he said.
"We're in a situation with this coronavirus crisis that we've never seen anything like this. So what we're doing every day, is we're identifying things that we need to adapt to, and we're putting either a temporary or permanent solution in place."