July 14, 2020

Mass Incarceration During Coronavirus: Ohio Prison With 80% of Inmates Infected

July 14, 2020
outbreaks of COVID-19 are happening in prisons

More than 2,000 prisoners, or about 80% of the prison population at the Marion Correctional Institution (MCI) in southern Ohio, have tested positive for the coronavirus.  That means 8 out of every 10 inmates there are infected with the novel coronavirus. 

As COVID-19 explodes inside jails and prisons around the country, thousands of incarcerated people will die unnecessarily as the disease surges and officials do little to stem the spread of the deadly virus.

Nearly 80,000 incarcerated youth, men and women are locked up in Ohio and face the possibility of an undeserved death sentence.

So far, at least 13 prisoners at MCI have died of coronavirus and one prison guard.

In April when there was still a chance to make a difference, the Ohio Prisoners Justice League and the Ohio Organizing Collaborative  petitioned Gov. Mike DeWine to release 20,000 prisoners, about 40 percent of those in state custody, by the end of May. That number would have comprised prisoners who had nearly finished serving their sentences, those incarcerated for non-violent offenses including drug violations, the elderly and prisoners with underlying health conditions.  

Although Gov. DeWine was one of the few Republican governors to break with Trump and acknowledge the severity of the situation in the early days of the pandemic, he made little attempt to reduce the state’s prison population.

In response to advocates’ demands, DeWine commuted seven sentences and created a process through which the prison population could have been cut down to around 1,300. But that plan seems to have stalled as less than 200 people have been recommended for early release.

Among federal prisons, known for overcrowding, Ohio’s MCI is among the worse, making social distancing impossible.

With 80% of the prisoners having tested positive for the coronavirus, MCI is the second-largest COVID-19 cluster in the entire country, according to the New York Times interactive tracker. MCI is just ahead of Pickaway Correctional Institution, another Ohio state prison.

Nationwide, 9 of the top 10 coronavirus clusters are in prisons or jails, no longer nursing homes or meatpacking plants.   

“As I see it, people who have been convicted of violent crimes — not just nonviolent ones — should be considered for possible release. Why should we exclude from consideration someone convicted of armed robbery at 18, who’s still locked up at age 45, simply because he has two more years left on his sentence?” asked Michelle Alexander, professor and author of the bestselling and galvanizing book, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness. 

“Our governments have been willing to shut down our entire economy, sparing only those sectors deemed ‘essential.’ Shouldn’t we also consider whether it is truly ‘essential’ for millions of people to be caged?” Alexander wrote in an opinion piece.


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