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Sheriff discusses how TCSO has dealt with COVID-19 pandemic and litter

At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, there were a lot of unknowns in many parts of daily life. Most people were forced to work remotely, and some still are, but one place that workers couldn’t take time off at was the Troup County jail.

Troup County Sheriff James Woodruff spoke Wednesday at the West Point Lions Club, detailing how the COVID-19 pandemic affected the TCSO and how it is trying to crack down on littering in Troup County.

In early March, the first positive case of COVID-19 was reported in Troup County, causing uncertainty in the county.

One of the first actions the county took was shutting down all nonessential businesses. At the jail, which currently houses 484 inmates, the county tested every single inmate after the public held a protest outside the jail to make sure all the inmates were tested.

“We tested almost 500 inmates. Seventy-one of those were positive,” Woodruff said.

The toughest part about having 71 positive inmates was separating them.

“Our jail is cut into pie shapes. Each piece of pie is a different gang or organization that is in our community,” Woodruff said. “You have all these people that you have to keep separated because if you don’t, they’ll kill each other. It worked out pretty good that up on the hill that used to be the prison, we had a lot of extra space. We were able to quarantine them there.”

After testing, inmates that did not have serious offenses were released.

“The prosecutors got together with the judges and looked at each case. They said ‘if it’s not serious, we’re going to let them out because we don’t need them in jail because that’s a bigger burden on the jail,’” Woodruff said. “Our population got down to about 350.”

Before March of 2020, when a person was arrested and sent to the Troup County Jail, they were classified by crime and sent to the corresponding section of the jail. Most of the time that meant that got added to the general population. Now, when a person is brought to jail, they are quarantined for 10 days. If the person starts to display COVID-19 symptoms, they are tested. If they don’t display symptoms, they are sent into the general population.

“My staff had to quickly come together with a whole new set of rules, regulations, policies and procedures on how we handle everyone that is brought to jail,” Woodruff said. “Keep in mind, we are the only jail in the whole county. We have an influx of inmates every day. Last Thursday, we took 24 inmates to Jackson, [Georgia], that is the diagnostics center. It’s the first time that they’ve received inmates in several months”

Along with changing the regulations of how inmates are processed and entered into the jail, TCSO had to change several policies, including visitation and jail ministries. The visitation center and the prison ministries were shut down in order to control who comes in and out of the jail.

“People ask us all the time ‘when are you going to start it back up?’ What is the answer?” Woodruff asked. “If you start it too soon and there’s an outbreak, people will say ‘you went too fast.’ If you don’t go fast enough, people say ‘why aren’t you trying to do it?’”

In an effort to see how other county prisons are handling the COVID-19 pandemic, Woodruff called several surrounding counties to see how most are handling the virus. Most are still shut down.

“For now, I think the safest thing for us to do is to stay shut down for a while longer,” Woodruff said.

Every staff member at the jail is required to wear masks and gloves at all times.

They also carry hand sanitizer with them.

Woodruff also brought up one of the biggest problems in Troup County right now — litter.

Inmates that are sentenced for a misdemeanor pick up trash along the road as part of their sentence. Woodruff said as of Wednesday, there are only six inmates that are picking up trash on roads.

“When they stopped having court, they stopped sentencing people,” Woodruff said. “We’re down to six inmates with one officer that picks up every road in the Troup County and unincorporated area. We don’t pick up state roads. We pick up county roads. In 2020, inmates picked up 3,689 bags of trash in Troup County. They cut or removed 364 trees, removed 222 tires, removed 75 appliances.”

Captain Nathan Taylor, who is in charge of the narcotics and traffic division at the TCSO, wanted to clean up West Point Lake. On a recent weekend, Taylor, along with four inmates and a volunteer, picked up 85 bags of trash along one side of the bridge. The next weekend, 80 bags of trash were picked up on the other side of the bridge.

“You name it, we found it,” Woodruff said. “This past weekend they picked up another area.”

Woodruff is hoping to get the chance to go back into the schools and help educate students about littering, something that worked with seatbelts when he was a child.

“Maybe we need to go back into the schools because people just don’t take pride,” he said. “We take a hard stand against littering.”