Hoping to control the coronavirus spread, Sedgwick County authorities are releasing some jail inmates charged with lesser crimes to increase the social distance between the remaining inmates. 

The Wichita Eagle reported that 200 inmates charged with misdemeanors have been released from the Sedgwick County Jail since mid-March. The concern is that the virus, if introduced, could sweep through the jail where inmates live in close quarters.

Cowley County Sheriff David Falletti said local judges are allowing more latitude in the bonding process but nobody is being released early at the Cowley County Jail.

Falletti said those arrested on less serious charges can be released on what is known as an own recognizance bond. 

He said the county is not planning to institute any other form of inmate release.

“We’re not going through the jail saying, ‘Ok, you can go, and you can go,’” he said. “Basically the judges have been the ones we call if it’s something of a serious nature.”

Cowley County Attorney Larry Schwartz said Thursday that he was not aware of what actions had been taken at the county jail.

‘I don’t know what their policy is or what they’ve done,” he said. “That would be something for the jail to answer.”

The jail has established one of its cell pods as a quarantine pod, Falletti said.

“Anyone who comes into our facility and doesn’t bond out right away will be held in quarantine for 14 days.”

The prisoner then would be examined by a nurse and released into the regular jail population. 

Early last week, all jail visitations were stopped for 30 days, including outside groups such as 12-step meetings. 

The district’s Chief Judge Nick St. Peter said that he and Judge Chris Smith in Arkansas City are monitoring arrests and determining the suspect’s potential risk to public safety.

With courts closed except for emergencies, some first appearances are being done by Zoom.com from the jail.

“Where we can make inquiry about their circumstances, and then make a decision about bond,” St. Peter said.

Generally speaking, he added, someone arrested for something like driving while suspended would be released on their own recognizance because that’s not a threat to public safety.

“Same way with maybe some low grade non-person misdemeanors, criminal damage to property, that kind of thing,” St. Peter said. “Disorderly conduct. Those people we don’t need to have them stay within the jail.” 

Suspects charged with more serious offenses are reviewed for what level of stability they would have back in the community.

The approach is similar to normal but “we’re trying to be a little more vigilant and on top of it as people are coming into the jail, to try and maybe be a little earlier in that process to address that situation,” St. Peter said.


CourierTraveler Publisher David A. Seaton contributed to this report.

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