The ACLU of Ohio, in partnership with the Union Theological Seminary, has launched a series of television advertisements in the Columbus market to apply pressure on Gov. Mike DeWine and state lawmakers to release Ohio prisoners.
The COVID-19 infection numbers being reported by the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction are jaw-dropping. Two Ohio prisons, Marion and Pickaway, are to two of the five worst confirmed outbreaks in the United States, with Marion topping all charts. More than 80 percent of the inmate population there has become infected.
ODRC maintains that these numbers are the result of widespread testing at those facilities, plus one other.
"We are getting positive test results on individuals who otherwise would have never been tested because they were asymptomatic," the department says.
But 16 inmates have now died at Ohio prisons, with two additional presumed deaths. Groups like the ACLU say that more fatalities are inevitable if Gov. DeWine does not take aggressive actions to reduce the inmate populations at facilities that are already far over capacity.
“COVID-19 should not be a death sentence for all who find themselves behind bars right now," ACLU of Ohio Executive Director Bennett Guess said in a press release. "Governor DeWine can and should take necessary steps to ensure this pandemic does not completely ravage Ohio’s prisons and jails."
The 30-second TV spot (video above), paid for by the ACLU of Ohio, will air until April 29. It "appeals to religious and moral principles" and calls for the release of elderly and medically vulnerable inmates, who are at the greatest risk of illness and death if they become infected with COVID-19.
Last week, a federal Judge in Cleveland ordered prison officials to identify elderly and vulnerable inmates at the Elkton Federal Correctional Institution for early release or relocation.
DeWine, however, has refused to make anything but the most marginal efforts to reduce Ohio's bloated prison population.
"We are using every tool in our toolbox, and are now taking our case to the airwaves," Guess said in the ACLU release. "We can’t incarcerate our way out of this pandemic, but governors, sheriffs, prosecutors, and the president have the power, and responsibility, to save lives.”