We have now closed out the year 2020 and what a year it has been. At the first of the year, around March, when COVID surfaced, we sure had to change how we were doing things here at the sheriff’s office and jail.

There was a lot of information at the time about how you get it, as in direct contact, through the air, on surfaces, if someone coughs or sneezes, etc. Guidelines were put in place of social distancing, washing hands, and eventually strong encouragement of wearing masks.

I will give you a little information on how we operated and continue to operate at the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office/Jail during COVID times. The jail population averages around 160 to 200 inmates on any given day. Our jail can hold up to approximately 424 inmates.

At the onset of COVID, we started trying to reduce our population of inmates who were in here on misdemeanor crimes and/or misdemeanor probation warrants. A large amount of misdemeanor probation warrants are because people are not reporting and/or not paying their fines and these are technical violations.

We reduced the population in an effort to keep the jail staff and inmates as safe as we could from this COVID. We tried to minimize the access to our jail to only the booking area. Of course, we still brought people in on serious crimes and/or crimes against persons, DUI, etc.

Once an inmate was brought in and couldn’t make bond, they were isolated for 14 days before being placed in the population in the jail. We have 14 isolation cells. As these isolation cells began to fill up, we had two empty pods in the jail that we utilized to isolate inmates from the general population.

The two pods we use to isolate have 28 beds each. If there is a positive to having a large jail, this has been it. We are very fortunate to have this large jail to be able to isolate inmates during this crisis.

We bought a fogger and were given a fogger. The jail staff is constantly cleaning and disinfecting the jail area, as in spraying all the surfaces. When deputies bring inmates in, they are met in the sally port with a thermometer to check the inmates temperature before access to the jail area. Deputies have access to disinfectant to use on the interior of their patrol car prior to leaving the sally port area. After each intake in the jail, more disinfecting happens.

As far as the sheriff’s office, we had to make changes also. We have a deputy room where the shifts gather prior to starting patrol. Once they are all in there, it can be pretty crowded. We stopped the deputies from coming into the sheriff’s office area. They start their shifts from their patrol vehicles rather than gathering up together. We had to separate our warrant guys for a while, who were the only ones that ride double. All deputies were provided disinfectant to use on their vehicles after they transport and frequently during their shift.

We have always provided hand sanitizer. Thank goodness we had some extra in our inventory. Temperatures are taken of our employees also.

Our criminal investigation division is an enclosed area with several cubicles for offices. For a while, we divided up these guys, by having half work from their vehicles half the day and the other half in the office and then swap off midday.

Then, we have our clerical staff in the front of the sheriff’s office, chief deputy, captains, and Lt. on the office hallway. We advised everyone to try to remain in their office as much as they could and not hang out in someone else’s office. This is a hard one right here. We have to meet up and share information and conduct the everyday operations of the sheriff’s office and jail.

So this just gives you all a little insight as to what we have faced and continue to face and how we have handled the COVID crisis here. It sure hasn’t been easy and very challenging at times but we have stepped up to do what we took the Oath to do and that is to serve and protect the people of Jackson County.

In spite of all the precautions we have taken, we have had staff that have battled COVID, some worse than others. We pray for those that are sick and for those that have lost loved ones to this dreaded virus.

The difficult thing for me is the unknown of COVID. I am not sure anyone actually knows 100 percent how you get it and what kind of symptoms there will be with it. Many people who have had COVID have different symptoms. Fever is not always a symptom in some of the people I know who have had it. The one thing I know is that it has been and is very bad.

As we enter the year 2021, we here at the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office, wish you all a better, healthy, happier and a prosperous New Year. Be safe always.

Janis Mangum is sheriff of the Jackson County Sheriff's Office.

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