Several liberal organizations sent a letter to Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine Friday urging him to “immediately reduce state and local incarcerated populations” during the coronavirus pandemic.
“We are writing to strongly urge you to immediately order the reduction of state and local incarcerated populations with all deliberate speed due to the extreme, foreseeable risk COVID-19 poses to incarcerated youth and adults, to the staff in those institutions, and to all Ohioans,” states the letter.
The letter was sent by the ACLU of Ohio, the Ohio Organizing Collaborative, the Ohio Transformation Fund, and Policy Matters Ohio.
“We are ready to work with your administration in whatever way is helpful to safely reduce incarceration numbers as much as possible, making sure that any orders are focused on releasing those with a lower risk of recidivism and those with a higher risk of infection,” it adds.
According to the letter, there are a number of legal mechanisms DeWine’s administration can employ to reduce prison populations, including the issuance of another public health emergency order or declaring an overcrowding emergency in state prisons.
As of Monday, 21 prisoners in Ohio had been tested for the virus with zero positive cases and two tests still pending, according to the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction (DRC). However, the state announced Sunday night that an employee at the Marion Correctional Institution tested positive for the virus.
“There has been no state-level order to directly reduce jail, prison, or youth-detention populations. This is perhaps the most critical step needed to reduce the likelihood that their internal health systems will be overwhelmed and allow for more housing flexibility to quarantine infected people as needed,” the letter continues.
“This glaring inaction is particularly worrying because of the health evidence you are no doubt already aware of: incarceration settings are ideal for rapidly amplifying infectious disease and then spreading it to the surrounding community.”
The letter comes after Derek Lichtenwalter, a prisoner serving a two-year sentence in Guernsey County, filed a lawsuit with the Ohio Supreme Court seeking release from prison because of the coronavirus.
In his complaint, Lichtenwalter said the prison’s “bed areas are so crowded that I am within three feet of at least twelve people and those twelve are in the same position. This means that there are 126 people in my ‘dorm’ that are within 3-4 feet of each other,” according to the Associated Press.
“The common areas are overcrowded and what this means is once it gets to the prison it will be spread quickly through the population,” states the complaint.
The state has asked the court to dismiss the lawsuit and said Lichtenwalter doesn’t have “a clear legal right to be released from prison due to the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Gov. DeWine said on Twitter Monday that the DRC “instituted some time ago a practice of checking on every employee who comes in.”
We have similar protocols at @OhioDYS and our state psychiatric hospitals.
— Governor Mike DeWine (@GovMikeDeWine) March 30, 2020
“Every staff member is encouraged to stay home if ill. They take the temperature of every employee coming in,” he said. “We have similar protocols at Ohio Department of Youth Services and our state psychiatric hospitals.”
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