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Circuit Court and sheriff must adjust to COVID-19 in Crawford County
Courthouse PdC

CRAWFORD COUNTY - In case you were wondering, the Crawford County Sheriff’s Department and the Circuit Court System have adapted to operating in the COVID-19 pandemic to function quite well.

There is now virtually no in-person activity in the Crawford County Courthouse. Appearances, status hearings, bail hearings, pleas and sentencing are all being handled remotely via Zoom meetings.

“The judges are really on board with it,” according to Donna Steiner, the Crawford County Clerk of Court. “CCAP (the statewide court records and scheduling service) was ready to roll out this remote format in 11 months, so when this happened, they just had to roll out what they were going to do in 11 months in 11 days.”

Incidentally, links to Zoom meetings for court appearances are now included in CCAP postings and the public can attend through Zoom.

The remote courthouse is functioning well, according to those involved with it. There has not been a jury trial since the new Zoom meetings for court started. 

“We’re just putting them (jury trials) out on the calendar,” Steiner said. The clerk of courts said bringing 36 members of jury pool into the courthouse is just beyond the capabilities of the court to keep people distanced and safe.

Things are much the same at the sheriff’s department.

“We are doing everything important with a minimum of in and out,” Crawford County Sheriff Dale McCullick reported.

Currently, there are 12 prisoners held in the Crawford County Jail. There were 41 prisoners when the COVID-19 outbreak emerged.

“We worked very well with the judge and the jail administrator evaluating who we could release,” McCullick explained. “We’re way, way down (in jail population),” McCullick said. “We got rid of everybody we could. There’s a lot of them confined to their residences with electronic bracelets.”

A couple of the 12 prisoners in the jail are headed to state prison to serve sentences, but the state prison system stopped accepting inmates and is just opening up that reception now.

McCullick noted that the 12 prisoners housed in the jail, have been held since before the COVID-19 emergence here and none are positive for the infection.

“We’re not worried about an outbreak among the prisoners,” McCullick said. “We don’t have COVID-19, unless we bring it into the building.”

Obviously, the staff is aware of the situation and is taking precautions.

If a new inmate is brought to the jail and must be housed there, adequate space now exists to house that inmate in a cell by themselves for 14 days for the quarantine period–taking temperatures and watching for other symptoms of COVID-19.

The jail has stopped housing prisoners for the state that are on probation holds in LaCrosse County.

Not taking on inmates from the state and other jails reduces revenue for the county, but is necessary to combat the risk of infection.

The sheriff’s department staff are working their regular hours and requested days off have been canceled. The result is a reduction in overtime. The only overtime is coming from personnel, who must work extra hours at the end of their shift.

Sheriff McCullick said the deputies had been very understanding of the situation and are dealing with it.

Nevertheless, McCullick is considering  starting a vacation schedule for the staff. 

While none of the staff has tested positive for COVID-19, the possibility they might would present problems for the department.

“There’s no one to fill those positions for the jailers and the traffic deputies,” McCullick said. “They understand that we have to keep it out of the building.”