DeWine: Ohio should release 167 inmates early to free up prison space

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Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine suggested to the courts on Tuesday that they release 167 inmates to free up space in the state’s prisons and prevent the spread of coronavirus throughout correctional facilities.

All of the inmates being recommended to the Correctional Institution Inspection Committee (CIIC) for early release are either 90 days away from their release date and in minimum-security prisons, or are 60 years or older with at least one chronic health condition that would make them more susceptible to contracting COVID-19, DeWine said during a news conference.

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Inmates who have committed violent crimes such as sex offenses, murders, kidnapping, acts of terrorism, ethnic intimidation or domestic violence abuses did not qualify for early release under Ohio’s Overcrowding Emergency statute, leaving 141 inmates eligible.

All of the inmates who qualified were expected to be released from prison on or before July 13.

DeWine explained that these particular prisoners live in facilities with “open bays” that house between 80 and 300 people in a large open room. In addition, inmates sleep in bunks with 3 feet or less of space between them, which can make a potential outbreak of coronavirus even more dangerous.

“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. I encourage the CIIC to give this issue their immediate attention,” DeWine said in a statement.

The governor also suggested 26 other inmates for early release, following similar criteria, because of their age and potentially compromised immune systems due to chronic health issues.

Under normal circumstances, all inmates whose sentences are commuted are normally given 60 days’ notice, but DeWine requested that judges and prosecutors associated with the inmate’s cases waive the period of disclosure so the decision can be moved directly to the state’s parole board.

“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,” DeWine said. “The parole board is prepared to meet start meeting on Friday to address these matters.”

The governor assured that the families of any victims associated with the inmates would be given prior notice to any early releases and have an opportunity “for their voices to be heard.”

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Additionally, both the parole board and the governor can add any conditions along with early release that an inmate must follow, otherwise they risk being sent back to prison.

“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.