Gov. Mike DeWine said he plans to ask for the early release of 141 inmates under Ohio's "Overcrowding Emergency" statute in order to help reduce and stop the spread of the novel coronavirus among the state's prison population.
Last week, DeWine asked judges to consider the early release of 38 inmates who were either pregnant or postpartum women or age 60 or older and already scheduled for release within 120 days. Now he's asking for early release for those scheduled to be released within 90 days, with some exceptions.
Those convicted of serious charges, such as sex offenses, homicide, kidnapping, abduction, ethnic intimidation, terroristic threats and domestic violence do not qualify for early release. Furthermore, those who have been denied judicial release in the past; those who have been in prison once before; interstate offenders; those with active warrants; and prison rule violators will not be considered.
That leaves 141 inmates up for consideration, all of whom are in minimum security.
Ohio currently has 49,000 people in its prisons.
"We ended up with fewer than we thought, but that's what we came up with based on the screening process that we went through," DeWine said during his Tuesday briefing.
A second group of 26 inmates is also being considered for release: those who are 60 or older with an underlying medical condition.
The reason behind these early releases is three-fold: to protect prison staff; protect inmates in the state's custody; and to "protect the public from those who may cause harm."
"Prisons pose a unique challenge in this pandemic," DeWine said. "Social distancing in the general population is helping us flatten the curve… but when we're dealing with prisons, it's a different situation. Social distancing becomes obviously much more challenging."
DeWine is asking local judges and prosecutors to waive the required 60-day notice for release so that he can take his decisions to parole boards, which, he noted, are prepared to meet on the matter starting Friday. Parole boards are allowed to make additional conditions upon release. The person will be sent back to prison if those conditions are violated.
He added that victims will receive notice and be given the opportunity for their voices to be heard before a decision is made.
"You're Winning The War"
Meanwhile, Ohio Health Director Dr. Amy Acton said as of Tuesday, the state has 4,782 cases across 81 counties with 167 deaths. Testing, however, remains greatly limited.
"All of this data is still lagging, but this is what we know right now," she said, adding that ICU admissions are staying at about 9%.
Acton took time to further explain the concept of modeling and how the state makes the decisions it does.
"It is not science that predicts our outcome; it's our actions that predict our outcome," she said. "Modeling is still like a weather forecaster, and even weather forecasters don't look at one model. We look at the most conservative, worst-case scenarios and we look at some of the other modeling showing better outcomes. All of this points us in a general direction of decision-making."
She noted that Ohio is currently under the curve and that the state's modeling is showing Ohio even further under the curve, so long as residents continue to obey the stay-at-home order.
"It's very important to remember that if we let up in two weeks we will easily bounce back," she said. "You've done this; you're winning the war. The second we let our foot off the gas it can pick up wind again."