12 to 14 new cells will be used to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and other infections, or for any other medical reason requiring an inmate to be isolated
By Emily Andersen
The Gazette, Cedar Rapids, Iowa
CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa — The Linn County Jail will use $1.7 million in federal pandemic relief money to fund the creation of special cells designed to mitigate the spread of infectious diseases.
The money was granted to the jail by the Linn County Board of Supervisors when it approved in October a second round of federal funding from the American Rescue Plan Act.
Linn County Sheriff Brian Gardner said the 12 to 14 cells will be used to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and other infections, or for any other medical reason requiring an inmate to be isolated.
A multipurpose room that has been used as an indoor recreation area will be repurposed to make space for the new cells, which will house one inmate each. The overall capacity of the jail — currently at up to 401 inmates — won't increase with the new cells.
Gardner doesn't have an estimated timeline for the changes yet. The jail still is working with architects to draw up plans. After the architectural drawings are finished, the jail will begin working on a contract for construction of the new cells.
The jail had an outbreak of COVID-19 early on in the pandemic, reporting 30 cases of the virus among inmates and staff by November 2020. At the time, the jail was screening all inmates for COVID-19 when they entered the jail and encouraging the use of masks among inmates and staff. For a while, the courts and law enforcement also issued summons — instead of arresting and jailing suspects — for low-level crimes.
In September 2021, there was another outbreak, with 18 inmates testing positive for the virus. During both of the outbreaks, entire sections of the jail were quarantined.
In response to the outbreaks the jail made a few changes, like allowing inmates into their individual cells during the day instead of requiring they be in the day area. The jail also barred visitors, but provided free letters and free phone calls to inmates instead.
With the district court's permission, the jail also released several inmates to make more space for social distancing. Inmates who were released were required to reschedule when they would return to finish serving their sentences.
The jail hasn't had any more major outbreaks since September 2021, according to Gardner, and the changes that were made to reduce the spread of the virus in the jail are no longer in effect.
The Linn County Sheriff's Office was one of 27 applicants to receive part of the $13 million the county had available during this round of ARPA funding. There were 72 new applicants competing for this round of funding, plus 53 eligible applicants that didn't receive funding in the first round.
Most of the applicants, including the sheriff's office, were awarded funding under category A of the act, meaning the money was for affordable housing, social services, public health, capital investments and negative economic impacts from COVID-19. Five groups received money under category D of the act, for water and sewer infrastructure projects.
The largest allocation of money from the county was for the new westside Cedar Rapids Library, which received $4 million. The Cedar Rapids City Council gave another $6 million for the library from the city's share of ARPA funding.
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