The COVID-19 global pandemic has created unprecedented circumstances in our communities. As society continues to adjust to self-isolation and quarantine, we can only hope that life as we knew it returns to “normal” as soon as possible. While social distancing and isolation have become our new daily routine, it is something that is impossible for people incarcerated in Ohio’s prisons and jails. While so many of us are concerned with keeping ourselves, our families, and our communities healthy, many Ohio inmates are being forgotten about. What was once a six-month or one-year sentence could now be a death sentence for some inmates.
The State of Ohio has been commended for its response to the COVID-19 global pandemic. Thanks to Governor DeWine and numerous state and local officials, the State of Ohio has not only flattened the curve, but obliterated it. The efforts and sacrifices made by the people of our state should be recognized and it has without a doubt saved thousands of lives. However, while Ohio has been a leader in its COVID-19 response, it has forgotten one significant sub-section of society. The Ohio prison and jail populations have been greatly affected by this virus. While only approximately 78,000 people are behind bars in Ohio, inmates represent almost 25% of confirmed cases of COVID-19.
As of Sunday April 19th, there have been 2,426 positive tests for COVID-19 in Ohio’s prisons. The horrific impact of COVID-19 on the prison population can be seen at the Marion Correctional Institution. Of the 2,495 inmates at Marion, 1,828 of them have tested positive for COVID-19. In an environment where social distancing and self-isolation is impossible, the substantial risks of COVID-19 are never more evident. Whether it is a dorm-style prison, or an institution with cells, the Department of Corrections does not have the ability, nor the resources, to protect their inmates.
The Supreme Court of Ohio has emphasized the need to protect Ohio’s inmate population. In the case of State ex rel. Lichtenwalter v. DeWine, Justice Michael Donnelly called for the state to take “serious, unprecedented steps to prevent catastrophe” in Ohio’s prisons. Justice Donnelly noted that trial courts have the power to “liberally and expeditiously” grant requests for judicial release and that broad action by all three branches of government is needed to save many inmates’ lives. While the Supreme Court chose not to act in this particular case, its message to the State of Ohio is clear – Ohio’s inmates are facing a substantial risk and are in need of protection.
If you or someone you love are incarcerated in Ohio, you may have grounds to be released. Due to the ever-changing policies and procedures around COVID-19, it is important that you speak with an attorney who can provide an accurate and honest opinion. The criminal team at Rittgers Rittgers & Nakajima has extensive experience representing inmates seeking judicial release. If you would like to know your options and best avenues to seek release, our consultation fee is only $150. Ohio inmates have rights and should be cared for just like any other section of society. If you have questions or would like to schedule a consultation, please call 513-496-0134.