COLUMBUS, Ohio — Gov. Mike DeWine has petitioned judges to consider the release of 38 nonviolent offenders from state prison during the COVID-19 pandemic, he announced in a Friday afternoon news conference.
More than half of the prisoners who could be released are women who are pregnant or who gave birth while incarcerated, DeWine said. The remaining 15 are inmates over the age of 60 who have fewer than 60 days remaining before their scheduled release.
Ohio’s prison system is among the largest in the United States, and releasing 38 inmates of its total 49,255 would reduce the prison population by less than half of one percent. DeWine said all 38 were selected by a “pretty elaborate screening process” that ruled out violent offenders, people convicted of sex crimes, people convicted of domestic abuse and inmates with notable behavior infractions during their time in prison.
In Kentucky, Gov. Andy Beshear announced Wednesday he planned to release 900 non-violent prisoners to protect them from the highly contagious virus, which spreads rapidly and to devastating effect in crowded, enclosed spaces.
Ohio has instead opted to enact strict screening procedures to prevent the virus from getting inside, including ending all in-person visitation as well as checking workers’ and contractors’ temperatures before they are allowed to enter.
But they aren’t impenetrable. A non-violent inmate named Woodrow Taylor died Thursday after contracting COVID-19 at a low-security prison in Lisbon, Ohio. Three guards at Marion Correctional Institution have tested positive.
DeWine said his office could encourage judges to release other inmates in the future, but only after another careful screening process.
"We're trying to be very careful, very respectful of the local courts, the local victims and public safety," he said. "That's why we set a very strict criteria about who we would even consider.”
Speaking Friday in Columbus, DeWine and Ohio Department of Health director Amy Acton confirmed 3,312 COVID-19 diagnoses in the state, 895 hospitalizations and 288 instances of a COVID-19 patient being admitted to an intensive care unit. Ninety-one patients have died.
Cleveland Clinic CEO Tom Mihaljevic told MSNBC Friday morning the virus’ anticipated peak had moved again: From between April 15-May 15, the date range DeWine had shared Thursday, to between mid-May and mid-June.