The criminal justice systems in the Panhandle and across the state are seeing a significant impact from the coronavirus pandemic, with fewer service calls, court dates pushed into the future and apparently less crime overall due to social distancing.
In Scotts Bluff County, the evidence is born out in a 44 percent reduction in the number of detainees from inside the county at the Detention Center, down to 83 in mid-April from 148 on March 1st. Meanwhile, federal prisoners from South Dakota and Wyoming housed at the facility have remained constant at 65-70, and the number of state prisoners from Wyoming and Nebraska has also remained stable, while detainees from other counties, mostly in the Panhandle, has fallen from 16 to 9 in the same timeframe.
Sheriff Mark Overman tells KNEB News there a several reasons why there are fewer local inmates. “There’s fewer calls for service, for one thing, and we are releasing people on citations that used to get arrested,” says Overman. “There’s still pro-active law enforcement going on, but everybody’s discouraging officers from unnecessary contact with people they don’t need to contact.”
Scottsbluff and Gering Police say call volumes during March were down anywhere from one-quarter to one-third compared to the same month in 2019.
All of the reduced numbers can be traced to the start and progression of the virus epidemic, which Overman says caused his staff to take every precaution in light of the situation. He tells KNEB News the inmates inside are also taking the situation seriously. “When this first started blowing up in Nebraska, we had a request from inmates in a specific pod that said ‘Hey, we’ve been seeing a bunch of stuff about this, can you get us some stuff to clean our pod?”, says Overman, “and we got stuff within a few hours to clean every pod and the inmates pitched in, and have continued to do that.”
That cooperation, and changes in processes and procedures has helped keep the virus out of the facility so far. Overman says there was one recent detainee who came in with potential symptoms, but they were isolated immediately and are being monitored closely.
Despite the changes, and fewer local detainees, Overman says the Detention Center’s financial situation remains stable. He tells us while movement of detainees among different facilities has largely stopped, the stable number of inmates from agencies paying to house them in the facility means that revenue stream has not recently changed as the pandemic took hold across the country and state.