North Dakota jails reflect on pandemic protocols

Published: Sep. 23, 2021 at 7:00 PM CDT
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BISMARCK, N.D. (KFYR) - Keeping jail inmates isolated from one another at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic was a challenge, and at one point, many people were released early to lower the threat of illness.

As the Delta Variant continues to hammer the country, Your News Leader checked in with North Dakota jails to see how things have changed.

Monitoring inmates at the Burleigh-Morton Detention Center is a full-time job. The facility now houses 229 inmates but can house a maximum of 555 inmates.

“We’re always concerned about the safety and the welfare of both our inmates and our staff,” said Trent Wangen, Major for the Burleigh County Sheriff’s Department.

During the pandemic, the detention center released nearly half of its inmates to slow the spread of the virus, initiated a 10-day quarantine upon inmate arrival, and began housing 30 to 40 inmates for the state penitentiary. Now the facility is bouncing back.

“We’re housing very few state inmates due to COVID. It’s basically back to normal operations. Once individuals are sentenced to the state pen, they are transferred out there in a fairly quick manner,” said Wangen.

Although only two penitentiary inmates remain at the detention center, deputies kept COVID-19 protocols in place and said they have had no issues. Their sentiments were echoed at jails around the state.

“They altered the S.O.P. in the jail from the beginning of the pandemic and things remain the same right now. Nothing has changed due to Delta,” said Sgt. Detective Caleb Fry at the Williams County Sheriff’s Office.

The Williams County Correctional Center remained at a steady 90 to 100 inmates throughout the pandemic.

“We’ve actually adapted pretty well, resource-wise, personnel-wise,” added Fry.

Both jails now offer vaccines to inmates who want them.

“With the Delta Variant being more contagious and it appears people becoming more commonly ill if they get COVID and it’s the Delta variant. We have some additional concerns there, so we encourage all our staff to continue using all the protocols we have established,” added Wangen.

Deputies say some protocols, like medical quarantines, may remain standard practice beyond the pandemic.

The CDC said outbreaks of COVID-19 in correctional and detention facilities are often challenging to control because of limited space and limited resources.

Neither Williams County or Burleigh-Morton County facilities have reported an outbreak of COVID-19.

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