COVID-19 prompts pretrial release to shrink Talbot jail inmate population

The Talbot County Detention Center in Easton ramps up its pretrial release program to improve social distancing efforts among inmates in the jail as the novel coronavirus spreads across Maryland.

EASTON — While the outlook in a coronavirus-fearing world is especially gloomy for already-isolated inmates at the Talbot County Detention Center, newly accused criminals on the outside appear to be catching a break as the jail ramps up its release rate in an effort to depopulate.

Terry Kokolis, director of the Talbot County Department of Corrections, said in order to prevent a COVID-19 outbreak within the jail, there's been a big push to send non-violent accused criminals home on pretrial release instead of locking them up after they've been arrested.

The push has created a nearly 70% release rate — with the Talbot County District Court commissioner now cutting loose two out of every three individuals who have been arrested and are awaiting trial, Kokolis said.

He called the coronavirus-fueled change an "acceleration" of Talbot's usual release numbers, and said, while the Talbot jail's population count has typically hovered near the high 50s, it now houses 46 inmates and has 30 accused criminals enrolled in its pretrial release program through which they're monitored closely.

"It's a wise decision to lessen the population of a jail so that social distancing can be better managed with fewer inmates," he said, adding he's expecting the virus to eventually infiltrate the Talbot jail because "it's happening to everybody else everywhere else."

While he said he doesn't know when the virus's spread will end, Kokolis said he's anticipating an ongoing battle with the "invisible enemy" and plans to "stay with it along the way." 

Keeping the static inmate population separate from the incoming population, screening all people who come into the jail for COVID-19 symptoms, and encouraging increased facility cleaning and personal hygiene protocols are among the steps the jail is taking to keep detainees safe. 

"When people are kept within four walls, then the protocols have to be a little bit different," Kokolis said. "They have to be a little more regimented to ensure the individuals that can't go anywhere stay safe."

He said the Talbot detention center initiated a temperature check on visitors, employees and incoming inmates in January. And, even now that visitors to the jail are prohibited under state COVID-19 guidelines, the jail continues to "scan and check everybody coming in the door, and we stage (criminals) before we move them into general population." 

Kokolis said each of the inmates has access to a television and they're "very in tune" with novel coronavirus developments.

"You can't turn on the TV without it being about COVID-19," he said. "(The inmates) know what's going on and they know they're vulnerable because they have no place to go."

Inside the jail, morale-boosters are being deployed to ensure the 46 detainees stay calm and feel connected to their family members through the detention center's enforcement of a no-visitors policy. 

"Most of the inmates in here are Talbot County residents, so it's easy for the families to come and visit them," Kokolis said. 

But the Talbot jail doesn't have video visitation like some other detention centers do, so it's offering inmates two free, 20-minute phones calls each week for as long as the coronavirus health crisis impacts its visitor policy. 

"People want to see their families. They want to see their babies. They want to see them through the glass and talk to them," Kokolis said. But, for now, the free phone calls are consolation for inmates' inability to do that. 

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