As of Tuesday, the Hardin County Jail's population was listed at 39, roughly half the average census, according to Hardin County Sheriff Dave McDaniel.
During normal circumstances, the facility averages approximately 85 inmates with a maximum capacity of 107. But there are concerns about the spread of the coronavirus pandemic in group settings, including jails and prisons. More than three dozen inmates at Iowa prisons have tested positive for COVID-19, according to state officials.
Housing fewer inmates doesn't necessarily mean the jail is seeing less income. The HCSO has a contract with the federal government for ICE (U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement) detainees, as well as prisoner agreements with other counties in the state.
"It costs us money whether we have 10 prisoners in there or 80 in there," McDaniel said. "For example, if Grundy County has six in our jail, they are paying us for those six prisoners. We are getting reimbursed by that county. In a sense, we are still going to pay utilities. We are likely saving some money in food expenses and probably water usage. But that's very minimal."
McDaniel said that while his staff continues to take as many preventative measures as it can, they understand there is still a job to do.
"Our staff is wearing masks any time they are dealing with detainees, including if we are transporting detainees on transports, things of that nature," McDaniel said.
Currently, none of the detainees at the Hardin County Jail have been tested for COVID-19. But McDaniel said there have been a few changes regarding ICE transports.
He said ICE detainees have to be in custody for at least 14 days and show no symptoms before they can be transported to the local jail.
"We are not traveling out of the state to pick any (ICE detainees) up. That's a change from a normal time. Typically, we get a lot of them up in Minnesota. Since this happened, we've taken none," McDaniel said. "We will travel to Omaha to drop them off for flights, but that's it. The precautions being taken, and the screenings we are taking, I'm very comfortable with. Obviously, anything is possible but we are taking every precaution we can take."
McDaniel also pointed out the HCSO is not obligated to accept ICE detainees.
But, he added, ICE detainees are not his top concern when it comes to the spread of COVID-19.
"We are not taking any fresh arrests of the streets other than mandatory arrests. I'm more concerned with those arrests coming off the street than with an ICE detainees," he said. "We do have measures in place with other agencies to ensure taking every precaution we can. We are not obligated to accept them. Fortunately we've been able to dictate what we will take and what we will not during this pandemic."
During officer calls to homes, McDaniel said every effort is made to have subjects exit their homes to discuss matters with officers. But, he said, that scenario is not always realistic. During house calls, the HCSO staff is asked to wear masks.
One statistic that has surprised the sheriff's office is the low number of domestic violence calls. Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds and public health officials have asked the public to work remotely and stay at home as much as possible. McDaniel said he expected there would be more domestic disputes. That has not been the case in Hardin County.
"The plus side is weather wise, people have been able to get outdoors somewhat. If we are dealing with this in November, December and January, we might be seeing something different," McDaniel said. "Even in the hotter months, if a resident doesn't have air conditioning in their home, you tend to see shorter tempers and that's when you get the arguments and domestic situations."
Overall, there has been a decrease in crime in the county, as there have been fewer people out and about on the roads. McDaniel credits social distancing practices and people taking extra preventative measures. He said that must continue as the county, state and world attempts to flatten the COVID-19 curve.
"All I can say to the public is don't let common sense go out the window," he said. "Even though the governor is starting to relax some of the restrictions, that doesn't mean we can all go back to normal. If we do that, we may be back at square one."