CLEVELAND, Ohio (WOIO) - A crowd gathered in downtown Cleveland Friday to support Ohio’s incarcerated during the COVID-19 pandemic.
They chanted, honked horns, held signs, and took to the mic. One participant said, “A lot of them guys are fighting for their lives right now. A few guys I know passed away, they lost the battle.”
Various organizations from across Northeast Ohio took part, but they were all united in their passion for those living behind bars during the pandemic.
Bernard Keith told 19 News he was recently released from Pickaway Correctional facility. “I left on March 16th. It was the start of the pandemic and they were starting to lock people down. They were ill-equipped medically to address it,” said Keith.
“We are calling on our local judges to start hearing judicial releases to get people out of prison,” said Kevin Ballou with the Cuyahoga County Jail Coalition.
Efforts are being made to reduce the inmate population. At the Cuyahoga County Jail, the number of inmates has been drastically cut since March.
Administrative Judge Brendan J. Sheehan released this statement to 19 News:
"Judicial release is not a quick process. It involves an individual who has been sentenced to a state penitentiary for a felony crime, not someone who is being held in the Cuyahoga County Jail. These motions are not taken likely and require extensive consideration for the safety of the community.
Once a petition is filed, the county prosecutor has 30 days to respond. Any victims, as well as the arresting police department, have the opportunity to weigh in.
Once the information is gathered, the majority of these motions go to the Cuyahoga County Re-Entry Docket of Judge Nancy Margaret Russo to review for eligibility to be placed in the re-entry program, which has a high rate of success.
If they are not eligible for Re-Entry Court, the case is sent back to the sentencing Judge to be reviewed with input from the prosecution and defense attorneys. This requires quite a bit of analysis.
Our Judges have worked diligently to reduce the Cuyahoga County Jail population by close to 50% during the pandemic, and the Judges will continue to review judicial release requests as they arrive according to the process in place."
For some attendees, the protest went beyond current COVID-19 conditions and became a message about second chances.
Tyrone “Teezy from the Clair” Harris told 19 News he did time for aggravated robbery and kidnapping. Because of resources and opportunity, he says he was able to change but not everyone has access to the same resources.
“Most men aren’t offered resources we had," Harris said. "They didn’t have the power of the mind or mental discipline to say I am not going to be a part of this system any longer.”