GT COUNTY COMMISSION

Chris Barsheff

TRAVERSE CITY — Twelve Grand Traverse County jail inmates were transported to prison Wednesday following a state OK — the first of its kind since the shutdown order, officials said.

“I’d like to commend Capt. Barsheff and his entire staff for the work they have been doing for the last two months in the jail to mitigate the virus,” Sheriff Tom Bensley told Grand Traverse County commissioners. “We have complied and exceeded the state’s recommendation, so we’re somewhat back to normal in our transfers from the jail to our state prisons.”

Chris Barsheff was promoted to captain and appointed jail administrator in June. He has made several policy and procedural changes since accepting the position.

Barsheff worked with the sheriff and leaders from Northern Lakes Community Mental Health to provide services for inmates, for example, and changed the facility’s food vendor for the first time since 2007.

“I taught emergency preparedness in the patrol division so I’m geared toward mitigating the unknown,” Barsheff said Wednesday. “I’m a detail-oriented person, I think analytically, so working on our COVID plan came naturally.”

The sheriff’s comments came Wednesday during the second public comment at the now-weekly meeting of the county board.

Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s Executive Order 2020-29 temporarily suspended transfers from local jails to Michigan Department of Corrections facilities until the jails met certain virus mitigation protocols and underwent an onsite inspection.

Grand Traverse County’s jail was the first in the state to be inspected by MDOC, Bensley said, and one of the first to be approved for transfers.

Chris Gautz, spokesperson for MDOC, confirmed the jail was the first to be inspected on April 24. The 12 inmates had arrived in Jackson at the MDOC’s intake center by mid-day Wednesday and were given coronavirus and antibody tests, he said.

The MDOC has a checklist for jails and now uses the local jail’s procedures as an example for other jails in the state, Bensley said.

“Proactive COVID-19 mitigation measures were put into place in our jail around mid-March to prevent the potential spread of the virus, and to provide for a healthy and safe environment for staff and inmates, Bensley said.

Having protocols in place early allowed a swift MDOC inspection at the end of April and approval May 1 for transfers to resume, Bensley said.

“This has come at us from all directions and so a lot of time was spent putting this plan together,” Bensley said.

He said the sheriff’s department responded to guidance and recommendations from the governor’s office, the Centers for Disease Control, the county’s health department, MDOC, the county’s insurance provider and labor attorney, plus the prosecutor’s office.

“There are lot of moving parts and they all have to fit together perfectly,” he said.

The jail has supplies to take samples for testing, has tested one inmate and the test came back negative, Bensley said.

All 12 inmates transferred were people who had been sentenced by the court, had been isolated and were awaiting transfer to an MDOC facility.

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