Ohio prisons becoming toxic breeding ground for coronavirus

Updated: Apr. 21, 2020 at 7:40 PM EDT
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CLEVELAND, Ohio (WOIO) - Thousands of inmates are now infected with COVID-19 in Ohio prisons, and more than 100 staff members have tested positive.

Desperate inmates are reaching out for help and sharing stories on the Facebook page, Understand Before You Judge.

“The infirmary is overran with sick people. We are locked in, we are quarantined. We need help. We need someone to care about us. Prisoner lives matter too," an inmate says in one video.

The Marion Correctional Institution has been hit especially hard by the virus.

“We’re asking society to please help us” Please pray for Marion #Justice4OhioPrisoners

Posted by Understand Before You Judge on Monday, April 20, 2020

According to the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation & Correction website, 154 staff members have tested positive along with 1,950 inmates.

COVID-19 has also claimed the lives of two people, one staff member and one inmate.

19 News spoke with two inmates via telephone about the conditions inside.

We agreed to not use their names.

“It’s impossible to social distance in prison because it’s so overcrowded,” said one inmate who tested positive for the virus. “I had hot and cold sweats during the night. I experienced hallucinations, chronic fatigue, loss of appetite and had no sense of taste or smell.”

In an effort to help slow the virus, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine announced he was seeking the release of 167 non-violent inmates.

Piet van Lier, with Policy Matters Ohio, believes more should be done.

“Prisons are not a safe place for the staff or for people who are incarcerated,” said van Lier. “We need to think about ways to get more people out of prisons so there is more room inside so the people that have to stay inside can be medically treated and there won’t as much demand on the system.”

Members of the National Guard are being trained to assist with mission critical functions at the Marion Correctional Facility.

19 News reached out to the Department of Rehabilitation and Correction for comment, but at the time of the broadcast did not hear back.

However, according to its website, several safety measures were being put in place, including expanded testing, limiting access to the facilities and requiring health screenings for staff, mission critical contractors and attorneys upon entry into the facilities.

To see daily COVID-19 statistics at each facility, go to ODRC’s website.

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