Letter from prison shines light on looming threat of outbreak
Posted March 31, 2020 in Press Releases
Policy Matters Ohio researcher Piet van Lier recently received a letter written by a man who expressed fear that conditions at North Central Correctional Institute in Marion, where he is incarcerated, make people in detention there especially vulnerable to contracting COVID-19.
“We are in groups of 210, could be more, and we sleep next to one and other,” wrote the man, whose identity we are protecting at his request. “We eat off the same plates and forks. All it will take is one of us to git this and the whole prison will have it.”
Citing concerns about close quarters and a more medically vulnerable population, Policy Matters Ohio joined the ACLU of Ohio to call on Governor Mike DeWine to reduce Ohio’s prison and jail populations.
At his press briefing today, Gov. DeWine said he and his staff are studying the issue, and will announce a new policy for prisons and jails in the next few days. DeWine said decisions to release prisoners will be made on a case-by-case basis, taking into consideration the person’s age, the crime they committed and how much time is left on their sentence.
“I have nothing to announce today,” he said. “We are not going to turn loose sexual predators. We will be very careful about how we are looking at this.”
“Gov. DeWine and his team should put in place plans to immediately begin a safe reduction of Ohio’s incarcerated population focused on releasing those with a lower risk of recidivism and those with a higher risk of infection,” van Lier said. “There are several legal tools available to make this happen in the short term and the governor should use them.”
So far, Ohio has one confirmed COVID-19 case in the state prison system, although only 25 of the nearly 50,000 people in state custody have been tested. The Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections said Sunday that a worker at the Marion Correctional Institution contracted the disease. (Two people incarcerated in the federal prison in Elkton also have tested positive.) Studies have shown that prisons and jails are disease incubators. As of March 30, Rikers Island Jail in Queens, New York, had 167 confirmed cases among those incarcerated, according to the New York Times. The people who work at jails and prisons risk transmitting the disease to their community when they come home.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has shown is that every Ohioan – whether they live at home or are being held behind bars – must be protected and cared for,” van Lier said. “Not only is it the right thing to do, it’s the best way to keep everyone safe.”