VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) — The Virginia Beach Sheriff’s Office is releasing some nonviolent inmates from the jail in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

The VBSO has identified 60 inmates in the Virginia Beach Correctional Center who qualify for their Electronic Home Incarceration program. The program uses GPS-monitored ankle bracelets to allow the VBSO to monitor the location of participating inmates.

The program is available to inmates who have 90 days or less of their sentence to serve, are charged with nonviolent, misdemeanor offenses, and have a safe place to go, according to the VBSO.

People who have just been arrested but also fit the criteria may be eligible for the program, along with some nonviolent felony offenders. Those will be decided on a case-by-case basis, according to the VBSO.

People charged with domestic crimes or third or subsequent drunken driving offenses are not eligible, according to the VBSO.

Up to 150 inmates can be part of the Electronic Home Incarceration program at a time. The VBSO began releasing inmates under the program on Tuesday, March 17. The VBSO intends to use the program to free up bed space in the jail, which to-date has more than 1,300 people incarcerated. Participating offenders who display good behavior while in the program and return the ankle bracelets undamaged will have the $3.20-a-day fee for participating in the program waived at the end of their incarceration, according to the VBSO.

Anyone who violates the terms of the electronic monitoring program will be incarcerated in the jail again. Virginia Beach General District Court Chief Judge Daniel Lahne approved the VBSO’s release of inmates under the program.

“The coronavirus is presenting an unprecedented challenge to public safety, especially here in the jail, where we have hundreds of people living in close contact. This is an inherently high-risk population, especially given our number of sick, elderly and immunocompromised individuals. For them, a coronavirus diagnosis could be a death sentence,” Virginia Beach Sheriff Ken Stolle wrote in a news release. “It is my responsibility to do everything in my power to protect the health and safety of every person inside this jail, including the deputies who go home to their families at the end of the day.”

The VBSO is taking other precautions to prevent the spread of coronavirus in the jail, including quarantining new inmates for 14 days.

“I would never compromise public safety or release someone who poses a threat to our community,” Stolle wrote in the release. “But now is the time for us as a society to decide who we are mad at and who we are afraid of and only incarcerate those we’re afraid of.”

Stolle says they’re doing everything in their power to keep more than 1,300 inmates, 500 deputies and 150 other workers safe.

He says their safety precautions begin before the inmate even gets into the jail, with an outdoor screening process.

“We wanted to move the admission process out of the jail so when they come in the jail we know whether they have the virus or are suspected of having the virus or not,” Stolle explained.

He says crews clean the jail, top to bottom, every hour.

They also may be closing the in-house cafeteria, and deputies have to shave their beards.

To stay informed, Stolle says they have had several conferences and workshops with top health professionals — and they came with a serious message.

“I said ‘How bad is this going to get?’ And they said ‘It’s coming, you need to be prepared. It’s going to be the worst thing you’ve ever seen,'” Stolle said/

Stolle says their weekender inmate program will also stop for the time being to prevent more traffic into the jail.

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