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Bookings suspended at county jail due to overcrowding

July 10, 2021 GMT

LONGVIEW, Wash. (AP) — A Kelso man arrested Monday on Cowlitz Indian Tribe property with what was believed to be methamphetamine was not held for drug possession or the misdemeanor for trespassing. Hours later, he was arrested by Longview police for suspicion of vehicle theft.

Two factors contributed to his first release: drug possession no longer is a felony offense in Washington, and the Cowlitz County Jail was temporarily too congested to book for most lesser crimes, the Daily News reported.

COVID-19 quarantining and an influx of inmates with behavioral health needs contributing to the space shortage because they are housed alone in cells. Officials said they are considering suspending COVID-19 quarantines.

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Cowlitz County Corrections Director Marin Fox said the jail has temporarily suspended bookings for lesser crimes about four times since the pandemic started. Bookings had never been suspended before the pandemic in the facility’s roughly 15-year existence, she said.

In the most recent instance, most misdemeanor charges — excluding DUIs and domestic violence cases — could not be booked Saturday through Wednesday due to overcrowding. Before the pandemic, the jail typically housed up to about 270 inmates; it houses about 140 now, Fox said.

“The jail is experiencing unprecedented numbers of mentally ill inmates that require being alone,” she added.

The state does not require new inmates to be quarantined, but encourages facilities to do what they can. About 10 cells are dedicated to quarantining inmates for 72 hours and testing them twice for COVID-19 before they can join the rest of the population.