Expert: Ohio better get ready for more coronavirus hot spots in state prisons - News - The Columbus Dispatch

Advocates are urging state officials to “get ahead” of the COVID-19 crisis in Ohio prisons before dire conditions in two hot spots spread...


Advocates are urging state officials to “get ahead” of the COVID-19 crisis in Ohio prisons before dire conditions in two hot spots spread to more penal institutions.

“Some of the prisons where the number of confirmed cases are growing are in for a lot of suffering,” said Piet van Lier, a researcher at Policy Matters Ohio, a left-leaning research group.

“Prisons to watch are Belmont, Toledo and North Central, based on growing numbers of confirmed cases there. What we are hearing from people incarcerated in these prisons sounds a lot like what people were saying about conditions in Marion and Pickaway a few weeks ago.”

His remarks followed comments by Gov. Mike DeWine on Wednesday that “prisons are being well run” and “have adequate (personal protection) equipment today,” including N95 masks and gloves.

But corrections officers and inmates told The Dispatch of frightening conditions in the Marion Correctional Institution (next door to North Central) and Pickaway Correctional Institution, where about 80% of inmates and more than 267 workers have been diagnosed with the coronavirus.

Corrections officers say they are understaffed with so many out sick, forced to work double shifts for days straight and lack personal protective gear. Inmates complain of tight quarters, exposure to those testing positive and inadequate hand sanitizer and other personal hygiene and protective supplies.

“There seems to be a disconnect between what the Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections director (Annette Chambers-Smith) and Gov. DeWine (say) and what incarcerated people and prison staff are saying about current conditions in Ohio prisons,” van Lier said.

As of Thursday, 3,711 inmates had tested positive for the virus, with the Marion and Pickaway institutions accounting for 3,408 of them.

There have been 30 inmate deaths, including 21 at Pickaway, seven at Marion and two at Franklin Medical Center, a prison hospital on the South Side.

On the staff side, 427 have been infected and two have died.

The next highest, Belmont Correctional Institution in St. Clairsville, had 45 inmates and 13 staff with the virus, followed by North Central Correctional Complex with 11 inmates and 12 staff and Toledo Correctional Institution with 11 inmates and 10 staff.

“It is disheartening and alarming,” said state Sen. Sandra Williams, D-Cleveland. “As a former corrections and parole officer, my heart goes out to the officers and staff of Marion Correctional Institution and other facilities around the state. I cannot imagine the fear and anxiety that they, and their families, are experiencing when they go to work. They must be protected at all costs.”

Williams and other justice reform advocates have called for a reduction in the roughly 48,000-person prison population, urging DeWine to use his executive authority of pardon, commutation or reprieve for those individuals who have demonstrated rehabilitation and for others to be moved to safer, more sanitary locations where they can maintain social distancing and receive medical treatment.

“The infection numbers and recent news reports show that little to nothing has been done to comply with COVID-19 safety guidelines in these facilities,” Williams said. “I implore you to take immediate steps to ensure the men and women who work or are incarcerated in Ohio’s correctional facilities are safe. If the state continues to delay a drastic response to this tragedy, only the state will be responsible for the lives lost.”

ccandisky@dispatch.com

@ccandisky

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Newsrust: Expert: Ohio better get ready for more coronavirus hot spots in state prisons - News - The Columbus Dispatch
Expert: Ohio better get ready for more coronavirus hot spots in state prisons - News - The Columbus Dispatch
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