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Middlesex jail increases videoconferencing, limits visits

In response to the ongoing coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic, more court appearances are occurring via video conference beginning Monday, March 16, for those in custody at the Middlesex Jail & House of Correction. In addition, the sheriff's office announced these steps for all working in and visiting the jail.

Peter J. Koutoujian, sheriff Koutoujian

“I want to thank the Judiciary for expanding video conferencing as we all attempt to balance access to the courts and the need to maintain public health during this ongoing situation,” said Middlesex Sheriff Peter J. Koutoujian, who worked with judicial officials on the order, in a March 13 news release. “This will reduce the numbers of individuals we will need to transport to courts on a daily basis, while ensuring matters involving those same individuals are not delayed.”

The order issued by Chief Justice of the District Court Paul Dawley allows, among others things, those in the custody of sheriffs to be arraigned by video conference. The order is in effect through May 1.

Steps regarding visitors include these: As of 3 p.m. March 13, all nonattorney visits were suspended pending further notice. The decision to suspend visits was made based on current information available to the Middlesex Sheriff’s Office.

Some changes

In an effort to alleviate disruptions with visits, starting Saturday, March 14, and lasting until further notice, incarcerated individuals will be offered two free calls per week with a maximum call time of 15 minutes per calls. This is a first interim step as we work toward offering more calling opportunities. The office is also aggressively exploring additional possible means of communication, including video visitation and electronic messaging.

In consultation with internal and external medical professionals, the office has expanded the panel of questions we pose to those committed to our custody. These questions -- which have been in place since March 4 -- were added to our existing medical intake in an effort to identify individuals who may have symptoms of Covid-19 or who may have come in contact with those with lab confirmed cases. We have also implemented corresponding protocols should cases of concern arise, including notification and coordination with the Massachusetts Department of Public Health.

The office also strongly encourages attorneys wishing to meet with clients at the Middlesex Jail & House of Correction to consider using noncontact space. Staff will be able to direct attorneys to the appropriate locations.

The office has worked with the courts and other key stakeholders to expand the use of video conferencing for judicial appearances. This will significantly decrease travel outside the facility for officers and incarcerated individuals.

Programming (including religious services) provided by office staff and contractors will continue; however, volunteer services will be temporarily suspended through March 22. This pause is intended to ensure that core services remain active while we evaluate future steps.

Additionally, we are encouraging individuals inside the facility to continue to follow CDC recommended steps for preventing the spread of the virus. This includes frequently washing hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.

“As this situation evolves, we remain committed to working closely with our governmental and nongovernmental partners to make certain our processes and protocols remain sound,” said Koutoujian in a release. “The health and safety of our employees, incarcerated individuals and visitors is of paramount importance.”

To learn more about the sheriff’s office, please visit its website >>

This news announcement was published Monday, March 16, 2020.

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