Ohio Governor Mike DeWine announced Tuesday that he is taking steps to secure the early release of 167 inmates in Ohio’s prisons from two groups: 141 inmates who qualify for early release under an existing emergency overcrowding statute, and 26 inmates over the age of 60 and have at least one chronic health condition and have been screened for a number of criteria.
Emergency overcrowding statute
In Ohio law, there is a longstanding statute that allows the director of the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction to alert the Correctional Institution Inspection Committee of an overcrowding emergency, DeWine said Tuesday.
“We are in an emergency that makes the situation more urgent. We are in unprecedented times, which is why I’m announcing today that we are moving forward with this process and are notifying the CIIC of overcrowding in our prisons,” DeWine said. There are over 49,000 inmates in Ohio's prison system.
To relieve the situation, DeWine said they have identified specific inmates who qualify for release who are already scheduled for release within the next 90 days. This list does not including those convicted of charges that include:
•making terroristic threats
It also screens out all inmates who:
•Have been denied judicial release in the past
•Have prior incarcerations in Ohio
•Are inter-state offenders
•Have warrants or detainers
•Those who have serious prison rule violations in the last 5 years
That left 141 inmates who qualify for early release and have a release date on or before July 13, 2020.
“Again - these are individuals are already approaching the end of their sentences and releasing them slightly earlier than planned will create more social distancing for those we must keep in custody,” DeWine said. “I encourage the CIIC to give this issue their immediate attention.”
DeWine is also asking for another group of inmates to be release early: those who are over 60, have one or more chronic health conditions that make them vulnerable to COVID-19, have served more than 50% of their sentence and who have been screened for the same criteria as the group of 141 inmates.
In addition, any habitual offenders with two or more prior convictions were screened out, leaving 26 inmates statewide.
“…under the normal procedure I cannot quickly grant a commutation – we must give prosecutors, judges, and victims notice of at least 60 days – and that’s after all the appropriate paperwork has been filed,” DeWine said. Because of these individuals’ medical vulnerability, the fact that some would not qualify for judicial release and the need to consider these cases quickly, I'm taking the following action. We are asking judges and prosecutors associated with these cases to waive the 60 days notice so that they can take these cases directly to the parole board. The parole board is prepared to meet start meeting on Friday to address these matters.”
The parole board will consider and make a recommendation on each of these 26 cases, and in cases where there are specific victims, they will receive notice and have the opportunity for their voices to be heard, DeWine said.
Once the parole board makes the recommendations, including possible additional conditions for release, DeWine will quickly make the final decisions, including accepting and potentially adding additional conditions for release. If these conditions are violated the inmate will serve their remaining sentence.
“Overall, these are all tough decisions. We are trying to take a measured and reasonable approach that protects the public and tries to minimize the spread,” DeWine said.