What happens to Ohio inmates released during the pandemic?

Posted at 5:30 PM, May 01, 2020

By Friday afternoon, a little over 21% of Ohio’s 18,743 COVID-19 patients were located inside state correctional facilities — institutions that have, like nursing homes, struggled to contain the pandemic while housing large populations in close quarters. In many situations, it simply can’t be done.

Many Ohio prisons and jails, including the one in Hamilton County, have opted to take a chance: Release low-level, non-violent inmates to create more space for those who remain incarcerated.

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It’s often the safest available solution for the jail. For the inmate, however, it can replace old problems — the fear of infection, the stress of confinement — with new ones.

“It’s stressful when you come out,” said Trina Jackson, who helps formerly incarcerated people reintegrate with society at the Hamilton County Office of Reentry. “If you don't have the family connections or any other connections to help you with housing and things like that, you're going to need help.”

She provides it. Her team members work to connect their clients with housing, jobs, addiction treatment services and mental health care. Since the pandemic and emergency releases began, she said, they’ve seen an uptick in demand for their services.

Work might be the most challenging piece of the puzzle, especially during and after the pandemic-induced economic downturn.

“A lot of times our returning citizens are the last hired and first fired,” Jackson said. “And so when everyone starts to get back to work, who's going to hire them first?”

There are no easy answers, but she hopes for more success stories like former inmate Dennis Rose. He runs a sober living house in the West End, and he said Friday he’s proud of the progress he’s made since his incarceration.

“I got a job,” he said. “I’m on time for my job.”

That’s the goal for all of them.

While the recently released search for their place in the outside world, 36,954 more inmates remain quarantined behind bars. Twenty-eight have died.