Officials said a recent spike in coronavirus cases among ICE detainees at the Pahrump jail likely stems from the fact that more of them were tested recently in a new round of checks for the disease at the facility.
On July 1, the Nye County Sheriff’s Office, which operates the Nye County Detention Centers in Pahrump and Tonopah, began a new round of COVID-19 testing at the jails, starting with inmates in lower-level security cell blocks. Because U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement detainees are typically kept in lower-security portions of the jail, they were a majority of those tested, Sheriff’s Office Capt. David Boruchowitz said Friday.
The Review-Journal on Thursday reported that of 30 inmates at the Pahrump jail whose positive results were reported this week, at least 23 — or nearly 77 percent — were ICE detainees.
“I predict this next round of testing will probably have the opposite effect,” Boruchowitz said, referring to the fact that fewer inmates on ICE holds are housed in higher-security units being tested next.
Boruchowitz said there were about 101 people in custody at the Pahrump jail as of Friday, including 64 on ICE holds, or about 63 percent of the total population.
There were 38 people in custody at the Tonopah jail, seven of whom were reported this week to have tested positive for COVID-19. The Tonopah facility does not house ICE detainees.
ICE agents can book people taken into custody on immigration holds from other states, and deputies transport ICE detainees daily from the agency’s office in Las Vegas to the Pahrump jail, where they are held along with the general inmate population, Boruchowitz said.
An emailed statement from ICE on Friday said that the 64 detainees being held at the Pahrump jail was “a slight decrease” from the average daily population of 69.
“Utilizing (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) guidance along with the advice of medical professionals, ICE may place individuals in a number of alternatives to detention options,” the statement said, referring to the fact that some detainees are released from jail due to the coronavirus pandemic.
It was unclear Friday if the agency had released anyone from the Pahrump jail. Boruchowitz said the number of inmates from Nye County at the Pahrump and Tonopah jails has decreased since the pandemic, and normally the jails average a total of 200 inmates.
He said the decrease in inmates is due in part to court closures and judges releasing people more frequently. And while there has been no official order to reduce the number of arrests for cases like misdemeanors and traffic offenses, Boruchowitz said, deputies are trying to limit the number of people booked into the jail during the pandemic.
“We limit those arrests in general,” he said. “We are definitely being more conservative on when we are arresting somebody.”
As of Friday, there were 182 cases of the coronavirus in Nye County, including 157 in Pahrump and 11 in Tonopah, counts that include the inmates and ICE detainees, according to county spokesman Arnold Knightly.
Three people have died from the virus in the county, although none were jail inmates, Boruchowitz said.
This is a developing story. Check back for updates.
Katelyn Newberg at email@example.com or 702-383-0240. Follow @k_nebwerg on Twitter.