OUR VIEW: TCSO transparent on jail situation

Published 7:02 pm Friday, June 26, 2020

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Over the last few weeks, there’s been much discussion in our community over the outbreak of COVID-19 at the Troup County Jail.

We found out that at least one inmate — and possibly several inmates — had tested positive for the virus toward the end of May. After that information was made public, there were calls for every inmate to be tested, for a thorough, deep clean of the jail to take place and for more questions to be answered.

Over the last three to four weeks, we think it’s clear that the Troup County Sheriff’s Office is doing what it can to alleviate those concerns.

First, the National Guard came in and performed a deep clean of the entire facility, meaning they scrubbed the facility, on top of spraying to kill COVID-19.  

There was what amounted to a protest at the jail last week, asking for every inmate to be tested. The Georgia Department of Public Health District 4 fulfilled that request last Friday. The mass test resulted in 71 positive cases, bringing the jail’s total to 107 inmates who have tested positive during the entire COVID-19 pandemic. 

Remember, not all 107 inmates were in the jail at the same time, but roughly a quarter of inmates at the facility last Friday had COVID-19. 

Sheriff James Woodruff spent a couple of hours standing in front of the jail answering questions from community members, while many, including us, were live on Facebook. It was essentially an unplanned press conference. 

On top of that, he met with family members one-on-one who had specific concerns about their loved one.

On Wednesday, the sheriff’s office and District 4 Public Health held an official press conference. 

It’s not often LaGrange gets media attention from all over the state, but that’s what happened on Wednesday, as seemingly every media outlet within driving distance made the trek to Troup County.

Even that press conference wasn’t traditional, as the community ended up asking a lot more questions than the media. We think that’s a good thing, as it gave Woodruff and District 4 Public Health Director Dr. Olugbenga O. Obasanjo a chance to answer questions directly from families with concerns.

We will note that a lot of the questions being asked aren’t things the sheriff has any control over. He doesn’t set bonds. He can’t speak to why court cases aren’t moving faster. He doesn’t control whether the hospital believes an inmate is sick enough to be hospitalized. 

To be clear, we’re not saying that the sheriff’s office is perfect or has handled this situation perfectly. 

We’re not even sure what perfect would look like at this point, and we’re not sure anyone is.

Could something have been done to prevent the spread of COVID-19 at the jail? Possibly, but it’s just not that simple. Inmates are typically split up by the severity of their charges, and Woodruff said accounting for the additional split due to COVID-19 has really been difficult. An expert with the CDC toured the jail Thursday, and there’s hopes that doctor could find ways to prevent further spread. 

Some have called for the release of every inmate, while others have had ideas to house inmates elsewhere if they’ve been infected. Woodruff said Wednesday that law enforcement agencies are working together to keep people with minor charges out of the jail, and at this point, he said the jail and annex have room to house all of the inmates.  

It’s unfortunate that about one-fourth of inmates at the jail have contracted COVID-19, and it’s perfectly reasonable for the families of those inmates to expect answers on how the sheriff’s office is handling it. They should ask questions, and they should demand answers.

However, we also think it’s clear that Woodruff and the sheriff’s office are being transparent, which is extremely important. There is no such thing as too much information right now. 

They aren’t shying away from questions, and even invited the media and other members of the community into their conference room on Wednesday to show off how they are cleaning the facility for COVID-19.

 The press conference and a video of the cleaning procedure are available on the LDN Facebook page.  

Every possible preventative measure should be taken in the jail to prevent further spread of this illness, but it’s clear local leaders are taking it seriously.