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Western Mass. Jails Suspend Family Visits To Help Keep Virus Out

Hampden County Sheriff Nick Cocchi speaks about new precautions at the Ludlow jail on March 16, 2020.
Karen Brown
/
NEPR
Hampden County Sheriff Nick Cocchi speaks about new precautions at the Ludlow jail on March 16, 2020.

Jails in western Massachusetts have announced new restrictions to help stop COVID-19 from reaching the inmate population.

Hampden County Sheriff Nick Cocchi announced that for the next two months, inmates at the Ludlow jail won’t be allowed personal visitors – and will instead get a number of free phone calls.

Cocchi said lawyers and clergy can still visit, but without physical contact, and wearing masks. Volunteer programs will be suspended, and suspects awaiting court will be kept in a separate unit.

Cocchi said there are currently no suspected cases of the coronavirus at the jail, which holds an average of 900 men.  

"You have to remember, we have a very compromised population of people when it comes to health issues, and the virus coming in here would spread at a rapid pace, if it was to enter," Cocchi said. "That's why we are being so proactive and have been over the last probably three or four weeks." 

In nearby Hampshire County, Sheriff Patrick Cahillane said family visits have also been suspended at the jail, though attorneys have no new restrictions. 

Cahillane said every inmate arriving at the jail is screened for obvious coronavirus symptoms, including a cough and fever. But he said they are not tested for the virus because “nobody has tests.”

Attorney David Hoose, President of the Hampden County Lawyers for Justice, said the new restrictions seem reasonable to protect inmates from the virus, as long as they are only temporary. 

“I find that once procedures that limit inmate rights are in place, it is hard to get them removed,” he wrote in an email.

Hoose said he’d also like the Hampden County District Attorney to consider releasing older or sick inmates who are near the end of their sentence. 

And he’d like the sheriff’s department to help coordinate phone calls between attorneys and clients so attorneys don’t have to enter the jail at all.

Karen is a radio and print journalist who focuses on health care, mental health, children’s issues, and other topics about the human condition. She has been a full-time radio reporter for NEPM since 1998. Her features and documentaries have won a number of national awards, including the National Edward R. Murrow Award, Public Radio News Directors, Inc. (PRNDI) Award, Third Coast Audio Festival Award, and the Daniel Schorr Journalism Prize.
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