Arrowhead Regional Corrections has suspended office check-ins for clients under community supervision as a precaution against the spread of COVID-19.

The agency handles all pretrial release, probation and parole services for St. Louis, Carlton, Cook, Lake and Koochiching counties.

"We still have an obligation to maintain supervision of our clients, so we're maximizing the use of technology," executive director Wally Kostich told the News Tribune, noting phone calls, emails and other forms of electronic communication are replacing some visits.

ARC is still legally required to make in-person visits for some clients, such as those on supervised release from prison, Kostich noted.

"In those cases, we're working on techniques to try to minimize close proximity and maintaining that 6-foot boundary," he said. "We're not asking agents to enter homes. Rather, we're asking offenders and agents to meet outside. Fortunately, we're in a time of the year where it's not 30 or 40 below."

In addition to community supervision, ARC operates the Arrowhead Juvenile Center in Duluth and the minimum-security Northeast Regional Corrections Center in Saginaw. Both facilities have suspended in-person visits from members of the public — a step also taken by area county jails and Minnesota's prisons.

"We felt that shutting down those facilities to outside contact was in the best interest of not only our staff but also the residents at both institutions," Kostich said. "It's been a consistent practice that has been done in other correctional facilities, not only in the state but around the nation. So we're taking our cue from health experts."

The men serving time at NERCC already have access to devices that allow for paid text messaging and video conferencing services, but AJC relies more heavily on in-person visits between incarcerated youths and their family members. Kostich said staff is working to expand electronic communication capabilities.

Intake screenings are being conducted to try to prevent the introduction of the virus into the crowded and confined spaces of correctional facilities, but Kostich said there are plans in place should it happen.

"We are really emphasizing our ability to maintain that social distance as best we can," he said. "We have identified areas in both of our institutions in the event we do have a positive test and we need to isolate somebody or a group of people. I keep crossing my fingers that it doesn't come to that, but we're prepared if it does."

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