On Friday, September 11, a man who had recently been booked into the Morrow County Correctional Facility (MCCF) for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) began to complain that he could not breathe. There were no medical staff on duty, and the Corrections Officers did nothing to help him. He was listless and unable to sleep all night, clearly in need of serious medical attention.
The next day, around lunch time, this man fainted in the chow hall. He bled everywhere and the area was cleared. Again, there were no medical staff on duty. Another detainee attempted to perform CPR. An ambulance was called and arrived about 15 minutes later. There must be video of all of this, as there are cameras in the chow hall. Ohio Immigrant Alliance is calling on Morrow County to release the video footage to the man’s family.
This man had recently been arrested by ICE and brought in to the Morrow County Jail. He was put into general population after booking, rather than going into the so-called “isolation” room for 14 days, as had been prior practice following the 100% COVID-19 outbreak there.
Another man, a county inmate, has also been complaining of illness since Saturday, September 12, but as of this writing has not received any medical attention.
A Columbus Dispatch article, published today, quotes Morrow County leadership saying that the recent inmate escapes, suicide, and COVID-19 outbreak were down to “a run of bad luck.” This is outrageous. The latest incident only further proves that the problem is incompetence.
In the article, the Sheriff complains about budgetary issues, and disingenuously gives an annual budget figure of $614,000. That is not the entire budget of the Morrow County Correctional Facility, but rather the amount contributed by Morrow County taxpayers. The jail also receives hundreds of thousands of dollars from ICE to house immigration detainees, as the Sheriff himself admits in this letter, also published by the Dispatch.
Even in a low-billing year, the ICE contract is on pace to more than double the Sheriff’s jail budget, according to his own figures. MCCF has billed ICE approximately $310,000 over just five months, January, May, June, July, and August. We do not have figures for February and April, but those would be far closer to the January figures than July’s, given the ICE population numbers at those times. In April, ICE detainees made up a majority of the MCCF population.
At the same time, the facility has repeatedly failed to follow ICE’s National Detention Standards, as well as its own Infectious Disease Control Program. It’s all about cutting corners to save money and keep the jail in business, no matter what rights detainees have to medical care, interpretation of needs, and other basic accommodations that go along with the responsibility of caring for human lives.
In the Dispatch, the Sheriff also disingenuously refutes the allegation that the jail became 100% COVID-positive in May. He claims that “54 inmates tested positive for COVID-19 out of 77 who were tested.” This appears to be referring to testing done in May. At the time of testing, there may have been 77 people in the jail, but 100% of the jail population was NOT tested. By the Health Commissioner’s admission, the jail stopped testing once the positive rate rose above 61%. And, we also know that some of the tests came back “inconclusive,” not negative. At that point, the jail stopped testing and stopped using isolation procedures, moving all inmates back into general population. This is only done when it is assumed that every inmate in the facility had been exposed and there was “no need” to use distancing and other measures to keep additional people from being infected.
The Morrow County Correctional Facility’s lack of health care, unsanitary conditions, and clear mismanagement have been criticized by numerous doctors, the ACLU of Ohio, a federal judge appointed by President Trump, and its own county residents.
This is not “bad luck,” it is deliberate corner-cutting and a failure of leadership. The Morrow County Jail must close immediately, before more people die.