CANTON — St. Lawrence County Sheriff Brooks J. Bigwarfe has extended the suspension on visitations of inmates at the county jail until June 1.
The sheriff, in a Monday night update of jail activities during the COVID-19 pandemic to county lawmakers, said that he planned on keeping the doors closed to visitors as a safety precaution to the inmates, corrections officers and staff behind the walls of the facility.
“It’s obviously an issue with the inmates right now but, as the public outside the facility has to deal with this COVID and sacrifice certain things, the visitation, if I start that, it could really start some issues,” he said.
“I just had a discussion with several inmates actually on this the other day,” he said. “They understand that there is a crisis out here, but they are getting frustrated, like other people out in the public are, but I tell them they have to stay patient, patience is safety and obviously safety of the inmates and the COs and the staff in the facility is very important to me and it should be to the public.”
On Thursday he issued a news release saying correctional facilities face unique challenges in order to prevent and control infectious diseases such as COVID-19.
“Preventing and mitigating transmission not only protects the health of incarcerated individuals and staff members, it also protects the health of our community,” the release stated. “In an effort to safeguard the health of our incarcerated individuals, employees and our community against COVID-19, Sheriff Brooks Bigwarfe in consultation with St. Lawrence County Public Health have extended the suspension of visitation at the St. Lawrence County Correctional Facility until June 1, 2020.”
Clergy and attorneys needing access to parishioners or clients should contact (315) 379-2367 to pre-arrange appointments for admittance for secure visitation. Arrangements will remain at the discretion of the sheriff.
As of Monday, there were 54 inmates in the facility, no positive COVID-19 cases and no suspected cases, Sheriff Bigwarfe told lawmakers Monday night.
The sheriff said following the May 6 drug roundup known as Operation Drop, where 18 arrests were made, Canton-Potsdam Hospital Associate Chief Medical Officer Andrew Williams assisted in testing subjects brought in to the jail from New Jersey for COVID.
“All but three would be tested. Three refused,” Sheriff Bigwarfe said.
Vice Chairman David W. Forsythe, R-Lisbon, asked the sheriff if he was correct in believing that inmates have the right to refuse to be tested.
“What does it fall under, Brooks?” Mr. Forsythe asked.
“Their Constitutional rights of certain rights they have, even in the facility, unless we get a court order to show cause, which is very difficult to get,” Sheriff Bigwarfe said. “But there are other precautions we could take, with further segregation of those inmates. So hopefully within 14, 15 days, we’ll know that they don’t have it. But they do have rights to refuse certain tests and this is one of them. I know it doesn’t seem right for the safety of the Cos and staff and other inmates, but they do have that right.”
He said in addition to segregation of some inmates as a security measure, there are temperature checks and a line of questioning to determine if inmates have the virus.
He also said officers and jail staff are well stocked with personal protection equipment, commonly referred to as PPE, and that staff is being monitored and tested.
The sheriff said his office was moving to a new phase of testing where he will get all the Cos, road patrols and civil department tested as soon as possible.
“Our video arraignments of inmates have started. Some of the county court proceedings are occurring and they are trying to expand that further, but there are other things, like sentencing, that can’t be done by video at this time,” he said. “So the sentencing of inmates and other things are still on hold, but we are staying steady in the 50 area and the good news is we are keeping the COVID problem out of the jail so far, but we are really crossing our fingers to keep it out of there. We’re doing everything we can.”