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Ohio COVID-19 concerns have ACLU calling for more jail reductions

Posted at 10:45 PM, Apr 03, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-03 23:25:59-04

CLEVELAND — The American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio is calling on Ohio Governor Mike DeWine to release thousands of additional non-violent offenders from prisons across the state, as a critical step in slowing the spread of coronavirus in those facilities.

ACLU of Ohio spokesperson Gary Daniels said the governor's release of 38 of Ohio's 49,000 prisoners this week is a small step in the right direction, but Daniels stressed much more must be done to protect these vulnerable populations.

The ACLU released a statement asking the governor to center his efforts on seven categories of non-violent inmates, including people over the age of 60, people with six months or less remaining on their sentence, people with technical violations, people serving for drug possession, non-violent offenders and people in prison for F4 and F5 offenses.

"The concerns are numerous and wide spread across institutions and across Ohio,” Daniels said. "Over half the people in the jails are in pretrial, they would otherwise be free to go from jail, they just simply don’t have the money. Many of these people in facilities, they have poor health to begin with and they are vulnerable and some of them are elderly and [have] serious medical conditions. It only takes one person in one of these facilities to test positive.”

Daniels said the continued release of non-violent juveniles in county detention centers is also crucial, as coronavirus cases multiply across the state.

Tamilia Prince of Richmond Heights said she's concerned about her 15-year-old daughter currently being held in the Cuyahoga County Juvenile Detention Center.

Prince has been trying to get her daughter released after she said her daughter was charged with allegedly lighting a piece of paper on fire while being held at a county youth care shelter.

“Judges aren’t coming to work, the staff has been decreased, what about the safety of the children,” Prince said. “Expedite their court dates, especially those that are charged with alleged charges or misdemeanors, who haven’t been convicted, who haven’t been sentenced. Basically now they’re in isolation for an unknown amount of time, with a possible delayed hearing. I don’t think it’s fair, not when they’re expediting for adults.”

Last week the Cuyahoga County Juvenile Court announced the population at the detention center was reduced to 100 and that social distancing and disinfecting methods were being enforced.

In response to News 5's story, the juvenile court issued the following statement:

In an effort to further limit the number of residents being admitted to the Detention Center, effective Friday, March 20, 2020, a restricted admission criteria was forwarded to all local law enforcement agencies.

New admissions must be a Felony 1 or Felony 2, Possession of Firearm, Gross Sexual Imposition with victim in the home, or Felony 5 level Domestic Violence charge.

Residents have been granted increased access to phone calls in light of the inability to visit face-to-face with their family members. These additional phone call opportunities are being provided to the residents free of charge.

Staff and residents are encouraged to remain 6-feet apart, in practical application, this rule may be difficult to observe based on the nature of the secure detention environment.

Still Prince, who is a local nurse, is hoping more teens can be released.

“I’m concerned. I’m scared. I’m worried,” Prince said. "Any kind of change that will let them come home during this pandemic, their safety matters too.”

RELATED: DeWine requests early release of 38 of Ohio's 49,000 prisoners, including pregnant women, older inmates