COLUMBUS (WCMH) – Gov. Mike DeWine revised his plan to alleviate the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus among Ohio’s prisons.
DeWine said there are specific inmates who could qualify for early release who are already scheduled for release within the next 90 days. This does not mean everyone eligible for release in that time period will be released early, the governor added.
The Department of Rehabilitation and Correction has identified 167 inmates who meet the criteria for the early release.
Inmates who have committed the following crimes are not eligible for early release:
- Sex offenders
- Homicide-related offenses
- Ethnic intimidation
- Making terroristic threats
- Domestic violence
In addition, inmates who fall under the following criteria will not be eligible:
- Denied judicial release in the past
- Had prior incarcerations in Ohio
- Are not interstate offenders
- Have warrants or detainers
- Those who have serious prison rule violations.
“The murderers, the sexual predators we have absolutely no intention of releasing them back into society. To protect the public, we must be smart and targeted about who we recommend for release,” DeWine said.
Using the above criteria, the state has identified 141 inmates who qualify for emergency release. These inmates, DeWine said, are housed at minimum-security facilities, living in “open bays” with 80 to 300 people living in a large, open room, increasing the potential to spread the disease.
An additional 26 prisoners have been identified – inmates who are 60-years-old or older and who have one or more chronic health issues making them more vulnerable to the coronavirus. These inmates have severed more than 50 percent of their sentence, and were also screened using the criteria listed above.
“Prisons pose a unique challenge in this pandemic,” DeWine said. “Socially distancing in the general population is, as you know, helping us flatten the curve. But when we’re dealing with prisons, prison inmates, correction officers, it’s a different situation.”
The new releases announced Tuesday are in addition to 38 potential releases DeWine announced late last week.
As governor, DeWine does not have the power to immediately release prisoners. However, a state law does allow the director of the Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections alert a state committee, the Correctional Institution Inspection Committee, to an overcrowding emergency and recommend certain inmates be released, which is how the state is going to requests the emergency releases.
DeWine does have the ability to commute sentences; however, those require a 60-day notice to judges, prosecutors, and victims.
To that end, DeWine is requesting the cases involving the selected inmates waive that notice and allow the cases proceed directly to the parole board.
Vicitms will still be given notice and will be able to make a statement to the parole board.
As of Tuesday, 14 inmates have tested positive for COVID-19 — seven in Marion Correctional Institute, six in the Pickaway Correctional Institute, and one at the Correctional Reception Center.
“We saw this past week that it had entered two of our prisons and that was to be expected despite the best efforts of the director and her staff,” DeWine said.