MOORHEAD — Clay County has reduced its jail population by half by releasing low-risk inmates during the coronavirus crisis, Sheriff Mark Empting said Monday, April 6.

"At the start of this, we were at about 125 inmates," Empting said during a Monday news conference in Fargo. "We are down to 60 now, so we cut it down by about half."

Clay County officials previously discussed during a March 17 commission meeting ways to reduce the jail's population, including putting low-risk inmates on the electronic home monitoring program. Jails and prisons across the U.S. have discussed or moved ahead with similar plans in an effort to make enough room in case they need space to separate sick inmates from healthy ones.

Cass County also floated the idea of releasing low-risk inmates, but its jail population has remained low enough that it hasn't had to, Sheriff Jesse Jahner said Monday. It has enough room for space to quarantine sick inmates or incoming ones for a period of time from the general population, if needed, he said.

The Clay County jail, which has a capacity of 190, was unable to confirm how many inmates were released, but other factors that have played a role in reducing the facility's population includes the courts working with attorneys to issue more promise-to-appear bonds. It's likely inmates who have been released after serving their sentences also contributed to the reduction in population.

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Empting said he has encouraged deputies to write citations instead of hauling people to jail if they were stopped for minor offenses. Those who are brought to the facility are screened for symptoms and quarantined for 10 to 14 days in the jail, he said.