mass incarceration

The Marion Correctional Institution in Marion, Ohio.
Department of Rehabilitation and Correction

A recent study by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention suggests correctional facilities that resisted mass coronavirus testing for inmates erred in their decision to only test inmates with symptoms, leading to large initial undercounts.

Why Did 77 Ohio Inmates Die Of COVID-19, But Just 10 Pennsylvania Inmates?

Aug 21, 2020
At Pickaway Correctional Institution, 110 staff members and more than 1,400 inmates have tested positive for COVID-19.
Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction

For the first two months after the COVID-19 pandemic hit the U.S., Ohio’s response set an example. Thanks to an early shutdown order, the state’s per-capita deaths from the virus as of late April were less than half of those in neighboring Pennsylvania, a state with similar demographics.

But inside the two states’ prison systems, it was a different story. 

As COVID-19 cases continue to pop up across Ohio, the American Civil Liberties Union wants to make sure inmates in county jails aren't subjected to unnecessary risk. The ACLU is asking county prosecutors and judges to come up with a strategy to keep jail populations down during the pandemic.

The Indiana Women’s Prison has taken hard measures to contain the coronavirus. Many inmates in the prison have spent long periods locked in their cells — which have no toilets, running water or air conditioning — with limited opportunities for relief. 

As temperatures rise over the summer months, advocates and those with loved ones inside certain housing units, known as the cottages, worry about the heat and long periods of confinement. They fear it could cause health problems for the inmates, and say that the treatment amounts to cruel and unusual punishment. 

Paige Pfleger / WOSU

In January, Columbus launched a new career development program for recently incarcerated people. After months of work, and overcoming additional obstacles presented by the pandemic, the first class of participants graduated last week. 

Imagine being stuck in prison for a crime you didn't commit. And as you wait to get out, the pandemic hits. WVXU interviewed two people in that situation who are now free. They talk about their fears, joys and need for patience.

Franklin Medical Center is one of the state prison facilities hit by the coronavirus.
Paige Pfleger / WOSU

Inmates sitting in soiled diapers or beds for hours. Feces in the showers. Urine caked on beds.

These are just some of the conditions reported by inmates at the Franklin Medical Center in Columbus – conditions that were problems well before coronavirus hit the facility.

Southern Ohio Correctional Facility in Lucasville, Ohio.
John Minchillo / Associated Press

Following reports of deaths from COVID-19 in a federal prison in Ohio, and as more inmates and staffers test positive for the coronavirus in three state prisons, officials have identified more prisoners who could be released early.

Updated at 9:58 a.m. ET

Federal prisons are wrestling with the rapid spread of the coronavirus at more than two dozen facilities across the country in an outbreak that has already claimed the lives of at least seven inmates and infected almost 200 more, as well as 63 staff.

One of the hardest-hit so far is the Federal Correctional Complex in Oakdale, La., located about a three-hour drive west of New Orleans. It's home to two low-security prisons and a minimum security camp, which all told house some 2,000 inmates.

The ACLU of Ohio is collecting complaints from inmates in Ohio through a new hotline and the organization is already pressing the state to play more of a role overseeing county and municipal jails through the coronavirus outbreak.

Women in prison, when compared with incarcerated men, often receive disproportionately harsh punishments for minor violations of prison rules, according to a report released Wednesday by a federal fact-finding agency.

It's recreation time at a Los Angeles County jail known as the Twin Towers. Nearly a dozen disheveled young men stand docilely as they munch on sandwiches out of brown paper bags.

They're half-naked except for sleeveless, thick, blanket-like restraints wrapped around them like medieval garments.

All are chained and handcuffed to shiny metal tables bolted to the floor.

"It's lunchtime and they're actually [in] programming right now," says a veteran guard, LA County Sheriff's Deputy Myron Trimble.

Advocates of bail reform protest Cuyahoga County Jail conditions in January 2019.
Nick Castele / Ideastream

Columbus recently moved to stop requesting cash bonds for most people charged with non-violent crimes, instead letting them out of jail as they await trial. It’s the latest in a statewide effort to reform cash bail, which tends to keep poor people behind bars.

Paige Pfleger / WOSU

Columbus city leaders celebrated the inaugural class of a new career development program to help recently incarcerated individuals find jobs.

Robert Alexander has been away from home for more than a decade. His days and nights are spent locked up behind walls topped with barbed wire.

"Prison kind of gives you that feeling that you're like on an island," says Alexander, 39, who is studying for a bachelor's degree in biblical studies while serving his third prison sentence.

Clad in an oversized gray sweatshirt under the fluorescent lights inside the visiting room of Wisconsin's oldest state prison, he is more than 70 miles from his last address in Milwaukee.

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