Dozens of inmates released from Smith County Jail over Covid-19 concerns

20-year-old Leo Santiago Chavez convicted.
20-year-old Leo Santiago Chavez convicted.(Source: Raycom images)
Updated: Mar. 23, 2020 at 9:01 AM CDT
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Editor’s Note: A prior version of this story incorrectly associated Smith County Judge Nathaniel Moran with the release of inmates. As County Judge, Moran oversees commissioners court and other county matters. His position is not responsible or related to criminal justice/corrections matters. We regret the error.

SMITH COUNTY, Texas (KLTV) -The Smith County Jail is taking steps to prevent more infections.

They’ve already released 70 non-violent inmates and will continue to lower the jail population in the coming days.

GMET’S Brennon Gurley reports on how criminal justice advocates believe this will not create any public safety concern.

Social distancing to reduce the risk of exposure to Covid-19 is a hard task behind the walls of a crowded jail.

Smith County Sheriff Larry Smith tells KLTV, "We cannot afford for the 861 people to get contaminated with the virus.”

In an effort to combat the spread of Covid-19, Sheriff Larry Smith among others agreed to release non-violent inmates.

With the help of the courts, the county courts of law, the state district courts, and Municipal Court of Tyler has been very helpful in getting the nonviolent offenders Class A, Class B, and Class C offenders if they’re nonviolent where they can make a bond,” explains Sheriff Smith.

Jail authorities are ensuring this decision will not jeopardize the safety of the public and would protect the health of inmates and jail employees.

The logic behind the whole thing is we keep the violent people in jail to protect the citizens and we let the other ones out, the nonviolent ones out to protect the inmates,” adds Sheriff Smith.

Criminal justice advocates say that everyone released has been checked along with their criminal history.

I believe we’re taking appropriate measures and precautions to make sure were don’t contribute to the spread of the virus,” explains Sheriff Smith.

As of Friday afternoon, the sheriff says no inmates or employees have tested positive for the Covid-19.

We’ve had to put into place many protocols that would keep from spreading should we get one inmate comes into jail facility and transfers the virus to someone else.”

He says they are constantly sanitizing in and around the facility and deputies on the streets are taking their own precautions.

In addition, every inmate brought to the facility is screened for symptoms. Just recently there was a scare involving a person taken into custody who was deemed a risk.

One of our deputy’s brought one in for DWI and had a 101 temperature, we couldn’t let them in the jail. They can’t go to the emergency room, so we found a responsible family member to release them to.” Sheriff adds that the offender will have a court date at a later time and could potentially serve time behind bars for the offense.

Sheriff Smith says they have appropriate procedures in place to deal with any potential case of the virus.

Again, Smith says the inmates released are non-violent offenders. The Smith County Jail is planning to lower the jail population even further in the coming days.

At this time the Smith County Jail has suspended any video visitation in addition to any outside jail trusty work that involves face to face interaction until further notice.

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