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Sumner County has begun releasing some inmates convicted of minor crimes in an effort to reduce the risk of a possible COVID-19 outbreak at the jail.

There were 37 inmates nearing the end of their sentence that were released from the Sumner County Jail this week just “days or weeks” ahead of schedule, according to Sumner County District Attorney Ray Whitley.

The early releases came following a Tennessee Supreme Court order directing judges to work with local law enforcement, prosecutors and public defenders to review local jail populations and make reductions when possible.

“We’re doing all we can to lessen the jail population… and cut down on the risk so people won’t be quite as confined with one another,” Whitley said Friday. “There could be more, but I don’t want people to think that the gates are open, and inmates are flooding out into society. That is not going to happen.

“The judge is not releasing anybody without checking with me and my office (first).”

There were 676 inmates being held at the jail as of March 25, according to Whitley. The number has since been reduced as a result of the early releases.

No inmates or deputies have tested positive for COVID-19, Sumner County Sheriff Sonny Weatherford said Thursday.

In an effort to help limit potential exposure to the virus, all employees and new inmates have their temperature checked and are asked a series of questions each time they enter the facility.

“We have one access into the jail now,” Weatherford added. “We are also not allowing volunteers anymore to be in the jail. Those programs have been suspended.”

While the screenings have been underway for several weeks, Weatherford said new inmates arriving at the jail starting this week have been placed in a separate area for 14 days to make sure they do not begin to develop potential symptoms of the virus.

All surfaces such as doorknobs and other surfaces that are touched by more than one person at the facility are also being cleaned regularly in addition to limitations that have been placed on the number of inmates allowed to gather in common areas at one time.

“If it were to get in here, it could (spread) really quick,” Weatherford said about COVID-19. “I’m trying my absolute best not to let that happen.”

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