The Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction (ODRC) is being criticized for its mishandling of circumstances surrounding a prisoner’s release during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Kevin Cherry was released from Marion Correctional Institution (MCI) April 11, 2020. Three days later, he tested positive for COVID-19. Cherry said guards at MCI did not even wear protective face masks or gloves until just a few days before his release. He said he was denied testing prior to his release. He was afraid of infecting his family and self-quarantined upon release and had himself tested.
Since then, ODRC officials have tested the entire prison population, and MCI now stands as one of the nation’s highest prison hotbeds for COVID-19, with 1,950 prisoners – 78% of the population — and 154 staff members testing positive. As of mid-April, one prisoner and one staffer had died of the virus.
ODRC provides staffers financial means to quarantine themselves within a hotel if they test positive for the virus but do not provide any assistance for prisoners being released who have tested positive.
Governor Mike DeWine said he was concerned for staff and their families. ODRC spokeswoman JoEllen Smith said prisoners were provided with information concerning COVID-19 and were asked to self-quarantine for a 14-day period after release.
A 90-day early-release program has been provided for prisoners during the pandemic, but it only applies to prisoners who have not committed a violent offense, been previously incarcerated in Ohio or have serious rule infractions.
The ODRC also has yet to institute a plan that would notify local health officials about the pending release of a prisoner positive with COVID-19. Without this notification, public health officials are unable to contact these people and evaluate them for risk of spreading the virus in their communities.
As a digital subscriber to Prison Legal News, you can access full text and downloads for this and other premium content.
Already a subscriber? Login