CSU criminology professor says inmates need to be released now to prevent more COVID-19 deaths

Updated: Apr. 21, 2020 at 9:50 PM EDT
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CLEVELAND, Ohio (WOIO) - As the coronavirus continues to spread through the Marion Correctional Institution like wildfire, advocates are calling for action.

The Ohio state prison is now considered one of the largest known sources of COVID-19 infections in the country, and many warn it’s going to get worse at other prisons in our state soon if we don’t take aggressive action now.

More than 75% of the population at the Marion Correctional Institution has tested positive for COVID-19, and now a second prison in Pickaway County is right behind them.

"Hi, this is Robert,” one prisoner said in a video posted to Facebook. “Broadcasting from the Marion correctional facility,

From behind the barbed wire, inmates are sharing their horror stories.

"Not going to lie to you, I am in fear for my life,” said another prisoner in a video posted to Facebook.

Prisons in Ohio have become breeding grounds for the coronavirus. According to Ohio’s coronavirus website, at least nine prisoners have died and nearly 4,000 inmates have tested positive.

"We cannot get away, from each other, this is crazy, we are just waiting to die in here,” another prisoner said in a Facebook video.

Dr. Meghan Novisky is a criminology professor at Cleveland State University.

She believes the prison population needs to be dramatically reduced so that social distancing guidelines can be followed.

Dr. Novisky recommends releasing inmates at least 50 and older with preexisting health conditions. She says nonviolent criminals should also be sent home.

"A third of Ohio’s prisoner population is incarcerated for nonviolent offenses, so if people think that it’s just gonna be a bunch of violent individuals released then that’s not really in line with the data of our prison population,” said Dr. Novisky.

She says it’s not too late to take action, but we need to do so now.

"Transitioning people safely home and allowing them to quarantine at home they can continue their supervision at home and still be punished but it would make the prisons more safe for not only the individuals who remain there incarcerated but for the staff,” said Dr. Novisky,

Gov. Mike DeWine announced the release of more than 150 prisoners. Dr. Novisky says that’s not enough, not by a long shot.

"If you released all of the nonviolent offense types that would reduce our population by 30%, which would help immensely. And then if you add on to that looking at people who are elderly and in-firmed you could reduce it even further,” she said.

19 News has reached out to the Department of Rehabilitation and Correction, but so far, we have not heard back. According to their website, additional safety measures are being put in place, including expanded testing and limiting access to facilities.

National guard members are also being brought in to help.

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