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Martin: ‘Case-by-case approach’ taken at jail / April 20, 2020
(Statement by Commonwealth’s Attorney Tracy Quackenbush Martin on reduced admissions to the Blue Ridge Regional jail in Halifax.)

The court system has taken a number of steps to help ensure the safety of the inmates at the Blue Ridge Regional Jail Authority, Halifax Adult Detention Center. After the Declaration of Public Health Emergency on March 17, our Circuit Court judge ordered that all individuals serving time on work release and weekends, or those who had been approved for delayed reporting, would be deferred until May 1. This order deferred the jail sentences of 14 individuals.

Once the Governor and the Secretary of Public Safety issued a joint statement on March 19 with a list of recommendations to criminal justice officials, I reached out to the Halifax Adult Detention Center to discuss their status. In consultation with the captain of the jail, my office agreed to a temporary furlough of approximately 10 individuals who were serving sentences on non-violent offenses until the May 1 date. Most of these individuals were within 30-90 days of completing their sentence. The purpose in all these orders was to assist the jail in creating appropriate social distancing within the jail population—not just for the inmates, but also the staff and corrections officers.

On May 1, the individuals deferred or furloughed must return to complete their sentence unless otherwise ordered by the court.

In addition, my office has developed a procedure with the jail for prompt review of the magistrate’s bond determinations. The jail has an intake area to evaluate the health of new detainees during the first few days after arrest. We are working with the jail to review any new detainees of concern so that the jail can avoid placing them in the general population of the jail unnecessarily. For instance, if my office determines that the community will be safe by using house arrest and pre-trial monitoring for an individual charged with a non-violent crime, we do so early in the process.

Of course, violent offenders should not be on bond. Those who are significant flight risks on serious felonies should not be on bond. In contrast, those who have been awarded a bond but cannot afford bail should not be held simply because they are indigent. We work to make those situations right. When we do not agree on the bond, we go to court and let the judge decide.

Our approach is on a case-by-case basis. Our chief considerations for any bond decision include the severity of the offense, the criminal history of the offender, the risk of flight and, in the era of COVID-19, the health status of the offender and the risk of the health of the rest of the jail population.

I have spoken with officials with the Health Department, I maintain contact with my local jail captain as well as the Administrator for Blue Ridge Regional Jail Authority, and I do my best to keep apprised of best practices for the health of my employees and all those with whom we work. I understand the jail has a number of contingency plans in the event of an outbreak there. In the meantime, we will do our part to assist the jail in keeping our community safe. The best help the jail can get is for people to remain law-abiding.

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