Milwaukee County adds to COVID-19 criminal justice precautions

Many cities across the U.S. are on the verge of being shut down again as COVID-19 cases rise.

Some facilities, though, have no choice but to remain open -- that includes courtrooms, jails and prisons. In Milwaukee, precautions are being taken to keep staff and inmates healthy.

Milwaukee County's Judiciary and Safety Committee met virtually on Thursday, Dec. 3 to discuss how they are working to keep COVID-19 out of places like prison cells and far away from the Milwaukee County Courthouse to ensure that hearing and trials can carry on.

"It’s going to get more treacherous between now and when we have access to the vaccine," said Milwaukee County Chief Judge Mary Triggiano.

Milwaukee County Courthouse officials are looking to find a balance between making sure that justice is served -- but COVID-19 isn't.

"We do have a little bit of what I call 'COVID Creep' into the courthouse, where potentially people have been exposed, but we’ve been able to work collaboratively to address those pretty well, get people out, send them home, do tracing here internally," Chief Judge Triggiano said.

Plexiglass dividers at the Milwaukee County Courthouse

The chief judge said there has yet to be an outbreak at the courthouse. In addition to a mask policy, they have implemented cleaning schedules, plexiglass and, now, two new precautions -- temperature kiosks at the courthouse entrance and employee health screenings.

"In terms of resident population, we are at 147 positive persons in custody," said Chantell Jewell, Milwaukee County House of Correction (HOC) superintendent.

COVID-19 alternate care facility at the Milwaukee County House of Correction

At the HOC, despite stringent screening measures, Jewell said case numbers are fluctuating daily.

Currently, more than 30 employees are COVID-19 positive. Of the inmates who are infected, 27 are being care for in the HOC's new alternate care facility.

"That being said we are anticipating to move some others to ACFs well," Jewell said.

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Jewell also said that she is anticipating that other jurisdictions will be requesting their inmates be transferred to the HOC's alternate care facility.

At the Milwaukee County Courthouse, about 60% of court proceedings are taking place by video conference, while 40% are in-person.

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