For 69-year-old Spokane resident Carole Dillon, living through COVID-19 isn't just a question of keeping herself safe. She has to worry about the well-being of her son, an inmate at Kootenai County Jail in Coeur d'Alene.
Her 40-year-old son, Gabriel Dillon, was booked last October for failing to report to work release — a violation of his probation stemming from several misdemeanor convictions, including theft and resisting an officer. He's struggled with homelessness, opioid addiction and traumatic stress disorder. And now he's being housed in a unit with three other inmates in the middle of a global pandemic, Carole says.
She's concerned jail staff aren't taking enough steps to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in the facility, which typically houses between 300 and 400 inmates on any given day.
"You know that it's just a matter of time before all those people are going to be infected," Carole says. "They need to be releasing people that are low-level offenders so that they don't die in prison just because they committed a misdemeanor."
As of last Thursday, the Kootenai County Jail was screening inmates at booking for COVID-19 symptoms and then giving those who are symptomatic a mask and quarantining them, according to Chris Wagar, a jail sergeant and spokesman at the jail. People who show symptoms will be quarantined in one of four negative airflow cells that can house two inmates each, he says.
But Carole says the measures aren't sufficient, since people can be infected with COVID-19 and not show symptoms and theoretically get missed during the screening at booking. She called jail staff to get answers, but wasn't satisfied with their protocols, citing the fact that the incubation period for COVID-19 is thought to last as long as 14 days in some cases.
"They say they've got a plan, but this plan is crap. It's no plan at all," she says.
Carole also wants the jail to start releasing low-level offenders to clear space, similar to what the Spokane County Jail is doing.
"These guys in these jails, if they're not violent they should be released," she says. "And they're just sitting ducks right now."
"If he was in Spokane, he wouldn't be in jail," she adds. "It's pretty draconian."