Columbus, Ohio – The ACLU of Ohio (ACLU) sent a letter on August 4 to over 450 criminal legal stakeholders in Ohio with urgent recommendations to mitigate the ongoing risks associated with COVID-19 for incarcerated populations, specifically people in Ohio’s county jails. The ACLU said, “The ripple effect of the deadly virus is, and will continue to be, ongoing, but decreasing local jail populations will save lives and lessen community-spread.”
The ACLU urges stakeholders to immediately eliminate or decrease money bonds that hold pretrial individuals in jail, and also to release certain categories of people through a collaborative systems approach.
Specifically, release should be prioritized for:
- People held on certain offenses
- People who would be sentenced to probation
- People who have six months or less remaining on their sentence
- Medically-vulnerable people
“The crisis is far from over. This past week Ohio set a one-day record for new cases and public health experts predict a second wave of the pandemic later this year. We must act now to mitigate widespread infection and death in our county jails. The decarceration strategies we offer will enhance public safety, reduce harm, and potentially save countless lives,” said Sabrina Harris, Policy Strategist for the ACLU of Ohio.
In March, Supreme Court of Ohio Chief Justice O’Connor recommended that judges reduce money bonds to decrease jail populations – and at least four counties implemented this practice during the first wave of the pandemic. The ACLU noted that approximately two-thirds of people in Ohio’s jails are legally innocent and held pretrial, which can be as many as 12,000 people on any given day.
“We commend the stakeholders that took action to reduce jail populations during phase one of the pandemic, but it is imperative that every actor in our criminal legal system – from courts to county jails – remain vigilant and alert to the devastation that COVID-19 holds over incarcerated populations. People in Ohio jails remain at a heightened risk of potentially fatal outcomes due to overcrowding, the lack of social distancing, and subpar conditions,” added Jocelyn Rosnick, Policy Director for the ACLU of Ohio.
Ohio saw the second highest number of COVID-19 deaths in state prisons, and while there is not comprehensive data for jail deaths, the ACLU of Ohio reminds Ohio stakeholders that they have the ability to make and influence policy changes to save lives in the future, and rewrite the narrative.