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COVID-19 outbreak at jail leaves inmate in limbo, others in fear
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COVID-19 outbreak at jail leaves inmate in limbo, others in fear

VALPARAISO — Anais Wilhelm, who is among the 33 inmates at the Porter County Jail who have tested positive so far for COVID-19, told a judge Tuesday she feels scared and stuck.

The 29-year-old Valparaiso woman has completed the jail portion of her sentence after pleading guilty last month to misdemeanor theft and was supposed to be released to a women's recovery home.

But the recovery home is not accepting new residents because of the COVID-19 pandemic and now that she has tested positive for the virus while in jail, Wilhelm no longer has an alternative place to go if she were released.

"Honestly, I don't have anywhere to go," she told the court during a video conference hearing between the courtroom and jail. "I really need to get into the halfway house."

Porter Circuit Court Judge Mary DeBoer, who had just denied another inmate's request to leave jail early following her positive diagnosis for the coronavirus, told Wilhelm she had had a different outcome in mind for her.

"I was ready to let you go if you had a place to go," the judge said.

Wilhelm said she is scared living in a quarantined pod at the jail set aside for those who have tested positive for the coronavirus.

"The nurse told us we could be reinfected with it," she said.

Porter County Chief Public Defender Ken Elwood, who argued for Wilhelm's release, said she has a sentence that is impossible for her to comply with because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

While a representative from the county's adult probation department said the halfway houses had set a May 1 deadline for accepting new residents, DeBoer said that may be unlikely considering the number of COVID-19 cases continues to grow in Porter County.

Elwood said he intended to reach out to the jail to see if it would be possible to quarantine Wilhelm by herself so she is healthy when a bed becomes available at a recovery home.

Inmate Melissa Saylor, who has also tested positive for the coronavirus, had asked DeBoer to release her Tuesday, which would have been 11 days earlier than the sentence she received after pleading guilty to felony theft.

"I feel I'd be better out," Saylor said, voicing concern about being housed with other inmates diagnosed with the virus.

But after hearing opposition from a deputy county prosecutor, DeBoer denied the request, noting that Saylor appeared to be doing well.

The judge cited Saylor's lengthy criminal history and said the sentence already seemed generous. DeBoer also voiced concerns about Saylor being a health risk and said she has access to care if needed in the jail.

Another female inmate who tested positive for the virus was denied release last week by another judge and hearings on a couple of others are scheduled for Wednesday.

Recent arrests booked into Porter County Jail

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Porter/LaPorte County Courts and Social Justice Reporter

Bob is a 23-year veteran of The Times. He covers county government and courts in Porter County, federal courts, police news and regional issues. He also created the Vegan in the Region blog, is an Indiana University grad and lifelong region resident.

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