Officials release 1,000 inmates to ease crowding, slow spread of COVID-19 at Dallas County jail

Jails across the country are seeing more and more inmates and workers infected. In Dallas County, there is an effort to control the spread by releasing some inmates.

The Dallas County Sheriff’s Office has confirmed 42 positive cases of COVID-19 in inmates. That’s 30 more than were reported this past week. Another 16 detention officers and deputies have contracted the virus, although two of those officers have returned to work.

About a thousand inmates have been released from the Dallas County jail to help reduce the risk of transmission of COVID-19 inside the facility. Inmate advocacy groups applaud the move, but still have concerns.

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Tiara Cooper, formerly incarcerated at Lew Sterrett, now advocates for inmates with live free faith in Texas. She says they would still like to see more inmates released to allow for more distancing inside the jail.

She also said there’s concern for newly released inmates and the communities they return to. She worries some inmates may have been exposed to the virus and of those released, she says many will end up homeless or return to communities with an already high number of COVID-19 cases.

“My hope for the people that are being released is that they be tested as soon as possible and that they have those direct services that are needed and necessary in this hour,” Cooper said.

A spokesman for the sheriff’s office says inmates are screened before being released and if there’s a possibility that person has been exposed to COVID-19, he or she is provided instructions by Parkland Hospital medical staff about what they need to do when they get out.

Cooper says Live Free Faith in Texas would support health monitoring or surveillance of inmates who are released, since many will not have access to health care.

The inmates are being released early on a case-by-case basis. There are no set qualifications but the inmates must not have a history of violence and a judge must sign off on each case.

"All of the persons who are being identified as being releasable are persons who are not violent offenders, have no history of violence,” said Dallas County Sheriff Marian Brown.

Sheriff Brown said social distancing in a confined environment is challenging, which is why she is trying to free up room.

Some examples of those who might be considered for early release are those in custody whose cases have not yet been filed or probationary type cases where fees were not paid.

The department is not holding anyone with a Class C misdemeanor. It has also had to make changes to its process on serving warrants.

Brown says all employees and inmates still at the jail have been given masks.

Other equipment like coveralls, jumpsuits and face shields are available for employees working in certain areas.

RELATED: Interactive map of Texas COVID-19 cases