To combat the ongoing spread of the novel coronavirus, Maricopa County Sheriff Paul Penzone announced that he would suspend work furlough and work-release programs in all of the county's jail facilities.
Notably, county agencies are working to allow inmates who are currently in the programs to wait out the virus at home.
“The purpose of this suspension is to ensure the safety of Maricopa County Sheriff's Office personnel as well as the inmate population by preventing inmates from leaving and re-entering the jail system daily,” Penzone said in his announcement on March 26.
The suspension begins today at 6 p.m., and will continue throughout Governor Doug Ducey’s State of Emergency.
The work furlough and release programs allow eligible inmates to work a job outside of jail while serving their sentence. Designed to assist in their re-entry into the community, there are currently about 160 inmates in these work programs, according to MCSO spokesperson Norma Gutierrez-Deorta.
The programs’ suspension follows the announcement of the first confirmed case of COVID-19 in an MCSO staff member earlier this week. The employee, who was based in the agency’s headquarters, did not have regular contact with jail detainees.
Maricopa County’s Correctional Health Services, which provides medical care within its five jails, has not yet responded on the number of incarcerated people who have been tested for the virus. To date, there have been no confirmed cases among detainees.
The sheriff’s office said it plans to allow eligible offenders to return home “promptly,” but does not have the authority to release any of the people within its custody without first receiving a court order of release from the county attorney’s office.
Maricopa County Attorney Allister Adel, in response to Penzone's suspension of the programs, said in her own announcement on Thursday that her office would "work with the MCSO, the Superior Court and the Adult Probation Department to plan and support an effort to allow those currently in the work furlough program to remain at home during the suspension of this program."
The probationers would continue to be supervised by the county's Adult Probation office.
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"Lowering the number of people being released each morning and reporting back to jail each night will reduce the risk of spread of COVID-19 to those who are in custody," Adel said.
Penzone said he'd releases those inmates as soon as he gets the court orders.
MCAO and the Adult Probation Department have not responded to requests for comment about whether time served at home will count towards time off a person’s sentence. The county attorney's office has also not yet said when it will begin issuing these orders of release.
The announcements follow scenes in other states in the past couple of weeks that have seen the release of hundreds of inmates from local jails. On Thursday, Attorney General William Barr told the Bureau of Prisons to use more home confinement for select prisoners.