WENATCHEE — Inmates at the Chelan County Regional Justice Center are struggling with the mental strain of COVID-19 delays that are putting some of their cases in limbo.
In the beginning of COVID-19, the state Supreme Court extended the timeline for trials to occur, Jail Director Chris Sharp said. The court halted regular court appearances, which disrupted the regular routine of inmates going to court and seeing their attorneys.
Jail staff have noticed increased frustration among inmates in response.
“And of course that created a lot of animosity with our inmate population toward the courts, but they never saw the courts and they never saw their attorney,” Sharp said. “So they were taking their frustrations out on staff.”
The jail saw a 60% to 70% increase in its grievance procedure since the beginning of the pandemic, he said. Inmates can write grievances to complain about the condition of the jail or staff treatment.
In particular, they wrote a lot more about their medical treatment, so the jail hired an additional nurse to ensure quality care and avoid any lawsuits, he said.
“I’ve been here 20 years and I think the Chelan County jail has done a really good job of handling their inmate population and treating them with respect and dignity,” Sharp said. “And due to frustrations of not being able to go to court, they started nitpicking everything inside the jail.”
The jail has allowed video visitations between inmates and attorneys, which helped a little bit, he said. But many attorneys don’t want to visit the jail during the pandemic for health reasons and/or because they don’t see the point since nothing is happening in court.
Inmate frustrations have led to more behavioral problems, such as inmates being verbally aggressive or threatening, he said. It has resulted in more intervention by the jail's mental health professionals and conversations with staff.
The number of assaults on staff or between inmates hasn’t increased, Sharp said, but that probably has more to do with the new camera system in each of the cells. The jail has been working on getting cameras inside its cells for almost two years.
Trials have started back up, though, with a couple so far this month, he said.