OGDEN — The U.S. Marshals Service has given the Weber County Jail an award for its efforts to cope with the COVID-19 pandemic, which found fertile ground in the enclosed environments of jails and prisons.
The federal agency, which by contract can house up to 275 inmates at the Ogden jail, bestowed its 2020 Jail Stakeholder of the Year honor.
Matthew Harris, U.S. marshal for Utah, presented the honor to Sheriff Ryan Arbon and jail staff at the Weber County Commission meeting on Tuesday.
“Weber County excelled in the most challenging environment we have ever seen,” Harris said in a prepared statement, noting that about 40% of marshals’ prisoners in Utah are held at the Ogden jail.
The Weber jail had an outbreak of COVID-19 that resulted in more than 100 infected inmates in the summer months of 2020. The jail, managed by the Weber County Sheriff’s Office, changed housing configurations, set up quarantine and isolation areas and processes, and its medical staff and outside help expanded testing.
“The work done inside a jail facility is not always the sexiest, but it is a critical component and one of the most important functions of the criminal justice system,” Harris said. “The public doesn’t get to see what it takes to run a facility 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, and likely the only time they think about it is those very rare occurrences when something may go wrong.”
The Weber jail, and its counterpart in Davis County, have had their share of scrutiny for things going wrong over the past several years.
Spates of jail deaths, most due to suicide, have afflicted both jails. Weber County reported four deaths in 2020. One of those deaths, that of a Marshals Service prisoner, remained under investigation. The jail termed the July 25 death of Alexander Sanchez suspicious.
The jail population shrank during the pandemic because fewer arrestees were booked into jail, instead receiving orders to appear in court. Even so, the jail and other county officials faced criticism for not releasing even more nonviolent inmates.
Lt. Joshua Marigoni, the Sheriff’s Office’s corrections spokesperson, said Thursday it was gratifying that the jail staff’s work during the pandemic has been recognized.
“It’s really nice to see, and we really appreciate our partnership with the U.S. Marshals Service,” Marigoni said.
Harris added, “It should give the public comfort knowing a professional staff works diligently behind the scenes to ensure our operation runs well, but also that the needs of the judiciary are also met.”