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On Jail Release, DeWine and Acton’s Failure to Act is Costing Lives

Columbus, OH – In today’s daily press briefing, Governor Mike DeWine laid out a half-hearted plan in response to criticism of his handling of jails and prisons during the COVID-19 crisis. 

Medical doctors, judges, and even sheriffs have been warning that the mass release of incarcerated people is vital to preventing uncontrollable outbreaks in jails and prisons. They have also outlined common sense ways to do it that protect public health and safety. Yet the State of Ohio has done next to nothing in this regard, leaving inmates and jail staff as sitting ducks for the disease. Today’s announcement doesn’t change a thing.

“Governor DeWine did not even acknowledge that people have already died from COVID-19 in Ohio prisons,” said Lynn Tramonte, Director of Ohio Immigrant Alliance. “Until incarcerated Ohioans are seen in this conversation, they won’t be heard either. Family members are worried sick about getting the phone call that says their loved one died of a virus that could have been avoided. We’ve seen leadership from the state on other issues, but in this area Governor DeWine and Dr. Acton’s failure to act is costing people’s lives.” 

For weeks now, doctors have been warning that jails are “powder kegs” for spreading COVID-19, and that hygienic measures are not enough. They say reducing the number of people incarcerated is critical. Drs. Scott Allen and Josiah Rich with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security recommend: “releasing all detainees in high risk medical groups such as older people and those with chronic diseases” and “detainees who do not pose a threat to public safety — i.e., those only charged with immigration violations.” The Prison Policy Project has outlined even more categories of individuals who should be considered for release.

As with the larger societal measures, these changes need to be effective before an outbreak occurs, if the goal is saving lives. The two men who died in Elkton prison both had pre-existing medical conditions that could have been considered factors for release, if Ohio had been proactive in heeding doctors’ advice.

Hundreds of Ohioans are locked up in county jails for federal civil immigration violations. Releasing them to their families poses absolutely no public safety risk, and would substantially lessen the pressure on jails in Butler, Seneca, Geauga, and Morrow Counties in Ohio. The American Prospect reported today that these jails are woefully unprepared for a COVID-19 outbreak. “Morrow County, a rural county in central Ohio, does not have the hospital or medical capacity of more urban areas, and the rapid spread of COVID-19 in a jail could overwhelm local health care capacity,” wrote reporter Marcia Brown.

For more, see:

  • Quotes from doctors, judges, and other experts about COVID-19 and mass incarceration
  • Quotes from family members of people incarcerated during COVID-19
  • A Q&A with Dr. Laura Chambers-Kersh in the American Prospect
  • A letter to Governor DeWine, Ohio Department of Health Director Dr. Amy Acton, and county health and law enforcement officials, signed by nearly 60 Ohio organizations and 336 individuals 
  • No Soap. Broken Sinks. We Will All Pay for Coronavirus Ravaging Prisons,” Lauren-Brooke Eisen and Jennifer Weiss-Wolf, Newsweek, March 26, 2020.
  • The Marshall Project’s reporting on COVID-19, criminal justice, and immigration  
  • Press Call: Ohioans Call on State and Counties to Release Detainees

Follow the Ohio Immigrant Alliance on Twitter @tramontela

www.ohioimmigrant.org

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