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Health & Science

Fewer Ohio Inmates During Pandemic, but ACLU is Still Concerned

The Southern Ohio Correctional Facility in Lucasville
Dan Konik
/
Statehouse News Bureau
The ACLU of Ohio is urging the state to include prisoners in its COVID-19 vaccination plan, including inmates at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility in Lucasville.

There have been 115 confirmed or probable COVID-19 inmate deaths and seven staff deaths in Ohio’s prison system. The prison population has been reduced because of COVID, but advocates say the facilities are still overcrowded and dangerous. 

As of this week, the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction said there were 44,027 inmates in Ohio prisons. That's a drop of more than 10 percent from the start of the pandemic and the lowest level in 15 years.

Gary Daniels with the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio said it’s largely because courts aren’t sending people to prison, and five jails can’t because of COVID rates in their communities.

“It begs the question of whether this is sustainable or whether the prison population is going to go just right back up and be just as overcrowded as it was before COVID-19," Daniels said. "And my suspicion is that is true.”

The ACLU has argued for the release of thousands of inmates and changes in sentencing laws.

The Department of Rehabilitation and Correction has no number to provide on how many inmates have been freed through compassionate or judicial release.

The ACLU is also arguing that the state's vaccinations plan must include people in prisons. In a letter to Gov. Mike DeWine, the group argues that focusing on vaccinating frontline health care workers and people in congregate care such as long-term care facilities is "ignoring the lives of  the Ohioans held  in prisons, jails, and detention centers." The letter closes: "We urge you to protect these individuals in your vaccine rollout plan to the same degree as you are protecting others living in various congregate settings."
Copyright 2020 The Statehouse News Bureau. To see more, visit The Statehouse News Bureau.