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Middlesex Jail Population Down 15% After Releasing Some Inmates; Has 27 Known Coronavirus Cases

Middlesex Jail and House of Correction in Billerica. (Steve Brown/ WBUR)
Middlesex Jail and House of Correction in Billerica. (Steve Brown/ WBUR)

The population of the Middlesex Jail & House of Correction in Billerica has declined by about 15% over the last four weeks as Sheriff Peter Koutoujian and his staff have worked to identify which detainees and inmates could be released rather than held behind bars during the coronavirus pandemic.

The population has dropped by more than 100 to a total of 681, Koutoujian's office said, as a result of actions taken before the state's highest court ruled that individuals facing nonviolent criminal charges and those held on bail ahead of a trial could seek release and also reflects sentences that have concluded.

"Since mid-March we have worked aggressively, both independently and with our public safety colleagues, to evaluate those in our custody for potential release. We have placed more sentenced individuals into the Electronic Monitoring Program, collaborated with District Attorney Marian Ryan and the judiciary to review individuals being held on bail, and made every effort to ensure court and medical appointments for our incarcerated population are being kept," Koutoujian said. "In fact, our staff made nearly 400 video and phone conferences for court appointments in just under three weeks."

When evaluating whether to release someone in its custody, the sheriff's office has "included an emphasis on elderly individuals and those with chronic health conditions," it said.

Four additional inmates and 13 new employees at the jail have tested positive for COVID-19, bringing the total number of cases at the facility to 27, Koutoujian announced Wednesday morning. The sheriff's office said the inmates were tested Monday and the results came back Tuesday. All four people have been medically isolated.

Koutoujian's office said that because of the positive tests he was restricting movement in and out of an additional housing unit to only those living there and essential staff. Movement in the unit where the first two cases were detected also remains limited, though those two inmates who tested positive in late March and were roommates are expected to come of quarantine this week.

The new employees diagnosed with COVID-19 brings the total number of staff to contract the virus to 21, and they will all remain off duty until medically cleared to return to work, the sheriff's office said.

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