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Oneida County Jail Locks Down Access, Seeks To Release Some Inmates In Virus Response

Ben Meyer/WXPR

State and federal health leaders believe stopping gatherings of people is a key to slowing the spread of coronavirus.

You’ve heard it called “social distancing.”

But jails can’t avoid having dozens of people together in a small space.

Oneida County Sheriff Grady Hartman said people in jail tend to be more vulnerable to disease, often because of risky life choices they’ve made.

This week, his department has been trying to lower the jail population by releasing nonviolent offenders, like those in jail for failure to pay child support.

“If we can get them kicked loose, talk to  the judge, maybe get a signature bond or a payment plan in place, get them out, less people [in jail], I think, is better if we can accomplish that,” Hartman said.

Many inmates have work-release privileges, called Huber privileges.  Those have ended.

“[Huber-eligible inmates] that are leaving on a daily basis and coming back on a daily basis, we’re stopping that,” Hartman said.  “That in-and-out where we could get exposure, we’re trying to limit that as much as possible.”

But Hartman is even more worried about something else.

He can’t afford to have any of his dispatchers get sick.

“We only have ten dispatchers, and I’m worried if we lose two, three, five of them,” said Hartman.  “Definitely the biggest concern I have.”

Hartman said no one besides dispatchers is allowed in the dispatch center.

That includes himself.

Ben worked as the Special Topics Correspondent at WXPR from September 2019 until November 2021. He now contributes occasionally to WXPR. During his full-time employment, his main focus was reporting on environment and natural resources issues in northern Wisconsin and Michigan's Upper Peninsula as part of The Stream, a weekly series.
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