The Lawrence County Sheriff’s Office claims that allegations concerning the neglect of inmates and a COVID-19 outbreak are “absolutely not true,” after complaints and accusations began circulating on social media last week.
Lawrence Jail Administrator Danny McMillin said accusations that “more than half the jail” is sick with COVID and that drug contraband is being circulated with no repercussions are false.
“I have served as the jail administrator since April, and from what I’ve seen, the Sheriff’s Office has been extremely proactive to keep COVID and drugs out of the jail,” he said.
McMillin said when he came on board, the Sheriff’s Office agreed to take measures to prevent COVID-19 from spreading inside the jail by keeping work release inmates out of the main facility.
“Work release inmates are not allowed to enter the building. They have their own facility outside the main jail—it’s similar to what I guess you’d call a dorm,” he explained. “By doing that, we’re keeping drugs out and COVID contained as best we can ... drug contraband is down 75% or better. It’s more possible for work release inmates who are out in the real world to bring drugs in than for those inside a regular jail cell.”
In a release from Chief Deputy Tim Sandlin last week, the Sheriff’s Office reported that it was restricting visitation among other safety measures at the jail after six inmates tested positive for the coronavirus.
“We do not have a total lockdown at our jail, however, we have restricted movement as well as access to the facility,” Sandlin said last Tuesday. “These actions are based on advice from medical staff in efforts to protect inmates and staff related to COVID-19.”
Last week, Sandlin said the jail was housing 149 inmates at the time of the report. The number of positive cases can change daily, added McMillin.
On Friday, he said the jail had around 14 inmates who had been tested in the past couple of weeks. Of those, he said medical staff who are subcontracted by the Lawrence County Commission reported six confirmed cases of COVID-19 and a seventh inmate who was transferred to the Lawrence Jail came in as a positive case.
He and Sandlin said inmates who test positive are separated from the rest of the jail. McMillin said inmates who are symptomatic but are awaiting test results are separated as well.
“It’s impossible to do a complete lockdown,” McMillin said. “There’s no right answer… We do what medical advises us to do and separate the people who have symptoms.”
He said the jail and administration are also taking steps to cut down jail population by releasing eligible inmates who have been incarcerated for non-violent charges, like those facing drug charges or Failure to Appear charges following traffic citations.
McMillin also addressed complaints concerning inmates sleeping on concrete floors and allegations that inmates are “being deprived of basic needs.”
He said every inmate is provided with a mattress and a blanket. When beds are full, inmates are given a “boat,” or plastic structure that lifts the inmate’s mattress off the floor.
McMillin added that inmates who are in lockdown might go one or two days without a shower because they are seen as a danger to themselves. He said he isn't aware of any serious attacks after rumors allege inmates were raped or abused by other inmates.
“We have cameras throughout the jail and we haven’t seen anything,” he reported. “Our staff is very proactive in PREA (Prison Rape Elimination Act). … The majority of what (the social media posts) are saying is half-fabricated truth.”