Woman holding a sign saying Release Them Now

Governor DeWine and Health Department Director Dr. Amy Acton failed to include Ohio prisons and jails in their COVID-19 harm reduction plan. Now, inmates, staff members, and their loved ones are paying the price. 

Just last night, we learned that an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detainee at the Morrow County Jail had finally been tested for COVID-19. His results came back positive, days after he first began to show symptoms. This is a jail that had no free soap until very recently, and has continued to accept transfers from other counties and facilitate deportations, spreading the virus in Ohio and beyond. 

“Steps could have been taken to reduce the risk of exposure at Morrow County Jail, but they were not,” said Lynn Tramonte, Director of Ohio Immigrant Alliance. This is a failure of leadership at the federal, state, and county levels. Now, all people detained at the Morrow County Jail must be tested for COVID-19, today. Everyone has been exposed. We also demand that Sheriff Hinton and ICE release as many people as possible, immediately, so that they can safely quarantine at home with their families. No one deserves to be a sitting duck for a deadly virus.”

Today, Ohioans are taking action into our own hands and demanding release of our friends and loved ones. Ohio Prisoners Justice League and Ohio Organizing Collaborative have organized a COVID-safe car rally in Columbus, demanding the release of 20,000 people from our state’s over-capacity jails and prisons in May. 

Watch the “20k in May” rally unfold on Twitter @OHPrisonJustice and Instagram @OhioPrisonJusticeLeague #BreakTheGates. This is part of a national day of action under #FreeAndAlive, with events also in Alabama, California, Colorado, and Texas.

The “20k in May” rally comes after weeks of warnings from doctors about the need to depopulate, and weeks of state leadership continuing to ignore and soft-pedal these concerns. 

Now, 80% of inmates at Marion Correctional Institution have tested positive for COVID-19, making it the largest hotspot in the United States. Twenty-two out of 28 state prisons are under quarantine. Over 4,000 inmates and staff in state corrections institutions have tested positive for COVID-19, with 15 fatalities, plus another 100 at the Elkton Federal Prison, where at least six people have died. These figures do not even include the county jails and ICE detainees, who are being held on civil, not criminal, charges. 

“These Ohioans in jail were not sentenced to death; many are near the end of their sentences and could simply go home to their families a little sooner, given the public health crisis. Hundreds are being held on civil immigration charges alone. DeWine and Acton ignored the doctors and experts warning them that decarceration was needed, failing to institute measures at state-run facilities and provide any direction to the counties, much less use their emergency powers. Their lack of leadership is leaving incarcerated people to die, and their family members feeling helpless,” said Tramonte. “These folks are Ohioans too.” 

Criminal justice and immigration experts have laid out safe, common sense ways to decarcerate, starting with people at highest risk of death by the virus; civil immigration detainees; individuals who had completed a substantial proportion of their sentence; people only in jail because they could not afford bail; and others. Read some of their recommendations below:

  • Steps to Immediately Reduce Ohio’s Incarcerated Population (ACLU of Ohio, Policy Matters Ohio, Ohio Organizing Collaborative, and Ohio Transformation Fund)
  • Alternatives to Immigration Detention (ACLU)
  • Steps to Take to Support Immigrants During COVID-19 (Ohio Immigrant Alliance, 60 organizational partners, and 374 Ohioans)
  • Five Ways the Criminal Justice System Could Slow the Pandemic (Prison Policy Initiative)

Follow the Ohio Immigrant Alliance on Twitter @tramontela