Berkshire Sheriff Tom Bowler announces the following measures being taken at the Berkshire County Jail and House of Correction to address COVID-19 (Coronavirus):
1. Screening of incoming inmates – The medical intake done on every inmate coming into the facility has been modified to include taking each inmate’s temperature and asking questions pertinent to travel, COVID-19 symptoms, and possible contact with those who may be contagious. Incoming inmates are quarantined in single cells and in a housing unit separated from general population inmates for 14 days as a preventative measure.
2. Education of Staff – The Administration has been regularly addressing staff at roll calls educating them on COVID-19 and the steps we are taking to address the spread of the virus. Personal protective equipment (PPE) procedures have been reviewed with staff. Information has also been e-mailed to all staff along with links to obtain further information. Staff have been instructed not to report to work if they experience signs or symptoms of COVID-19 or possible exposure and quarantine protocols have been established for staff. Administrative staff meetings are held each morning to obtain the latest information and make any necessary modifications. Teleconferences are regularly conducted with other county and state correctional facilities with federal and state authorities as appropriate. Homeland Security, CDC, DPH and other websites are routinely accessed to obtain the most recent information available. Massachusetts has established a 211 information line concerning this virus.
3. Education of Inmates – “Town Meetings” were held in every housing unit with medical staff. The signs and symptoms of COVID-19 were explained along with the incubation period and the quarantine period. Thorough handwashing and other personal hygiene measures (e.g. proper sneezing and coughing etiquette), and special surface cleanings were emphasized. The Sheriff, Superintendent, Assistant Superintendent and Director of Security also met with inmates in every housing unit to explain the measures being taken to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Signs were posted throughout the facility (intake, medical, lobby and housing units) providing additional information. Inmates were instructed to immediately report if they experience signs or symptoms of COVID-19.
4. Inmates Working Off Grounds – Work Release, Community Service and Stick and Pick details have been suspended in order to reduce the possibility of exposure outside the facility and bringing the virus back inside.
5. Volunteers, interns and outside program vendors have been temporarily suspended. Education and programming by BCSO staff are continuing.
6. Visitation & Phone Calls – Tours and personal visits have been temporarily suspended. Attorney and clergy visits are still allowed, but will be non-contact visits absent special circumstances requiring contact. Attorneys or clergy who believe they need to have a contact visit with their client should contact Assistant Superintendent Dan Sheridan at (413) 443-7220 ext. 1402. Inmates continue to have access to phones to stay in contact with their families and Sheriff Bowler has provided $50 phone card for every inmate along with 2 free phone calls per week. Indigent inmates also receive three free stamps per week for personal mail and an unlimited number of postage-free letters for privileged, confidential correspondence.
7. Cleaning, Hygiene Supplies, PPE and Medical Supplies – Soap and warm water is available in every work area and in every inmate cell and housing area. Extra cleaning and hygiene supplies have been procured and made available to staff and inmates. Personal protective equipment and necessary medical supplies have been purchased and are on hand. Free bars of soap have been distributed to all inmates.
8. Staffing – Staffing plans have been reviewed and measures are in place to insure adequate staffing on every shift.
9. Increased Cleaning of the Facility – Maintenance and janitorial staff continue to clean and disinfect our entire facility with our goal being to maintain our current status of zero incidents of COVID-19. Special attention is paid to door handles/knobs, light switches, railings, counters, officer work panels, computers, desks, toilets, sinks and faucets, and other surfaces subject to frequent contact.
10. Inmate trips outside of the facility – Any trips outside the facility are kept to those that are absolutely necessary. All transportation vehicles are thoroughly cleaned and sprayed down each day. The Courts were closed on March 16 and 17 and consequently there were no inmates transported to and from court. New juries will not be impaneled until at least mid-April. Communication is ongoing with the courts concerning video and teleconferencing when possible so inmates do not have to physically travel to court for non-dispositive hearings.
11. Inmate transfers – The transfer of inmates to and from other county or state correctional facilities has been temporarily suspended.
12. Medical protocols – Medical protocols are in place to deal with inmates who have potentially been exposed to the virus ensuring necessary screening and treatment. Our negative pressure rooms in J pod are vacant and available as is F pod should demand exceed J pod capacity.
13. Property drop-off and pickup – Property drop-offs and pickups have been suspended.
14. Lobby Access – Persons entering the lobby (legal and clergy visits, ATM deposits into inmate accounts and posting bail) will be screened for possible exposure prior to admission into the facility. Although the lobby remains open for cash deposits into inmate accounts, it is preferred to mail a money order to reduce the risk to staff and citizens.
15. Staff travel – All discretionary interstate and intrastate work-related travel has been temporarily suspended.
16. In accordance with Governor Baker’s order, effective March 24, 2020 most non-essential staff were asked not to report to work until April 7, 2020 and arrangements are in place for other staff to be able to work remotely.
17. Any staff member who has traveled outside of the United States, or to certain areas of the US (Westchester County, NY, Seattle/King County, WA, or Solano County, CA) must immediately report that fact to ADS Maynes.
18. Any staff member experiencing any of the following symptoms [fever, cough, shortness of breath, diarrhea, upper respiratory symptoms (sneezing, runny nose and sore throat) shall immediately report this to their supervisor and ADS Maynes and shall not come into work until granted clearance.
19. Administrators continue to meet daily at 9 a.m. to discuss the COVID-19 situation and to take any necessary measures.
20. We are in regular contact with Homeland Security, CDC, DPH, EOPSS, OPEM, MEMA, HMCC, MSA, Berkshire Medical Center, PPE suppliers, other correctional facilities, etc. to stay updated on the latest developments and precautions.
While these measures are time-consuming, expensive and may be inconvenient, they are being taken to help insure the health, well-being and safety of our staff and their families, the inmates and their families and the general public.