OTTUMWA — About 20 inmates have been released from the Wapello County jail due to COVID-19 concerns.

County Attorney Reuben Neff said the decision had to be reviewed carefully.

“My office reviewed defendants who, one, were facing nonviolent charges,” Neff said. “Two did not have a history of violent charges; and three, were being held in jail not out of concerns for public safety but because the defendants could not afford bond. We reviewed over 100 inmates to see if any of them met this criteria.”

Neff said the 20 inmates charged for minor crimes like writing bad checks, trespassing, driving with a suspended license and similar, low-risk charges, met the criteria.

Neff believed the 20 inmates who were released early should not have been in jail.

“Frankly, these are inmates that from my perspective should have not been held in jail to begin with; my office would typically not seek jail time for such defendants and most were not facing charges that could lead to prison,” he said. “Given the amount of violent crime in this county, our resources are typically devoted towards incarcerating and seeking prison time on repeat and violent offenders.”

Neff is pleased with the jail’s process of screening inmates for illnesses or COVID-19 symptoms and ensuring the facility is thoroughly cleaned.

“Frankly, the only frustration currently is that one of our courts have released quite a few inmates, over my office’s objection, that are facing violent charges and do present a danger to the community from our perspective,” Neff said. “Some in the general public seem to fail to grasp the difference between my office’s release of non-violent suspects and the court’s independent release of violent offenders.”

Chiara Romero can be reached at cromero@ottumwacourier.com.

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