Citing virus concerns, officials reduce prison, jail numbers

DES MOINES (AP) — Authorities have been taking steps to cut the number of inmates in Iowa’s prisons and jails, citing concerns about the spread of the new coronavirus.
The disease it causes, COVID-19, has yet to be confirmed in any Iowa prison or jail, officials told The Des Moines Register. But it poses a particular menace to overcrowded prisons and jails, ACLU spokeswoman Veronica Fowler said.
“There is no ability to self-distance. Meanwhile, people are coming into the jail all the time. People are coming in, coming out. You really have just a tinderbox for COVID-19 to spread rapidly,” Fowler said.
The Iowa Corrections Department is expediting the placement of about 700 prisoners who are approved for parole or work release, according to spokesman Cord Overton.
Maj. Bryce Schmidt, Scott County Jail administrator, said a judge has reduced terms for some elderly inmates, some inmates with respiratory issues and some close to finishing their sentences.
State public defender Jeff Wright said the Waterloo office reached an agreement with the Black Hawk county attorney for the early release of about 30 inmates.
For most people, COVID-19 causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia.
The Iowa Department of Public Health said Monday the state now has 105 confirmed cases of COVID-19.