Boyle jail sees inmate numbers plummet in response to COVID-19

Published 7:16 pm Tuesday, March 24, 2020


Jail populations around the state are declining as officials work to reduce the risk of a COVID-19 outbreak inside one of the secure facilities. Some communities have been slow to bring their numbers down and dozens of jails remain over-capacity, according to data first reported by the Herald-Leader Tuesday.

But in Boyle County, the local jail’s population has plummeted. Earlier in the year, the population in the 220-bed facility had been approaching 300. As of Tuesday afternoon, the jail had fewer than 180 inmates.

Email newsletter signup

That means the jail is not just within its rated maximum capacity, it’s also within its “operational capacity,” Jailer Brian Wofford said. The operational capacity is the recommended population level that allows the jail to handle any spikes in new inmates without exceeding its maximum capacity. At the Boyle County jail, that capacity is 184 

“That’s the lowest I can ever remember the count being,” Wofford said. “It’s a different place. The daily chaos is low, and of course, we’re not having to transport people to court and in between different facilities, so it’s cut the workload down on the staff. It’s given us some time to catch our breath and complete some projects we’ve been trying to work on.”

Wofford said with the lower population, he feels the jail is in a better place to handle things safely if someone were to test positive for COVID-19 inside the facility.

“I think we’re prepared. We’re ready as long as it’s not a severe outbreak in our population,” he said.

Wofford said the lower numbers mean cost-savings as well — on things like water, meals, electricity and supplies.

Wofford said the population reduction is largely due to the release of people who were in jail awaiting trial and people who were released early because they were nearly done with their county sentences.

“I have to credit the judges — all of our local judges,” Wofford said.

Local law enforcement, the state Department of Corrections, the local public defender’s office and local prosecutors have all worked together with the judges to bring the population down, he said.

“It’s just been amazing to see the level of cooperation,” he said.

The Boyle jail’s population has dropped by something like a third since the effort to address the COVID-19 threat began. But statewide, jail populations dropped by just 6.2% over the last two weeks, according to the Herald-Leader’s reporting.