Car with sign saying Free Them Now in front of Ohio Statehouse

Over the weekend, ten inmates at the Morrow County Jail tested positive for COVID-19. The jail is one of two ICE contracted detention centers in Ohio.

Most, if not all are immigrants held on civil immigration charges for ICE. On Friday night, the ACLU of Ohio sued ICE, demanding the release of medically-vulnerable immigrants currently detained in Butler and Morrow Counties. 

Said Lynn Tramonte, Director of the Ohio Immigrant Alliance, “Doctors have been telling government officials to reduce jail populations to avoid mass outbreaks, and no one in charge in Ohio listened. For weeks, inmates at the Morrow County Jail have been warning family members and friends about the filthy conditions, lack of soap and PPE, and frequent transfers of people into and out of the jail. They felt like sitting ducks for the disease. And now their worst fears have come true. 

“You can hear the fear in their voices. We are so grateful to the ACLU of Ohio for suing on behalf of three ICE inmates. We expect ICE, the Governor, and the Sheriffs to do so much more. We demand complete inmate access to testing, health care, soap, and PPE; release of immigration and other detainees in the interest of public health; and no new inmates, transfers from other facilities, or deportations, which spread the disease.” 

Why has the crisis in Morrow County Jail not been exposed? Where is the government accountability? To date, only one of the cases has been mentioned, briefly, in the Morrow County Sentinel. The County Health District stopped reporting COVID cases in it’s “daily updates” once the jail outbreak began.

“The failures at Morrow are part of a state-wide pattern of neglect, indifference, and unaccountability. It is obvious that our Governor and state agencies do not see incarcerated people as fully human,” Tramonte continued. “If they did, they would be doing something about this crisis in our jails and prisons.”

This weekend, families demonstrated outside of the Marion Correctional Institution, where more than 80% of the jail population has tested positive for COVID-19. On Friday, Ohio Prisoners Justice League and Ohio Organizing Collaborative organized a mass “COVID-safe car rally” and die-in to protest the lack of action on behalf of incarcerated people at risk of contracting COVID-19. View photos of the car rally and die-in from Paul Becker here.

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