Ohio prison system resumes accepting county jail inmates

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — The Ohio prison system plans to resume accepting inmates from county jails to begin their prison sentences, a practice suspended during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic to reduce overcrowding.

Beginning Monday, the state will take up to 50 inmates a day at the Correctional Reception Center in central Ohio. Authorities will hold inmates a minimum of 35 days before transferring them to facilities around the state based on their security level and other factors.

The agency needs to resume housing inmates as Ohio courts reopen, said JoEllen Smith, spokeswoman for the Department of Rehabilitation and Correction.

“Reopening the reception process will be done in a gradual controlled manner while we continue to carefully monitor county jail operations,” Smith said.

The announcement comes even as positive cases of COVID-19 continue to rise in Ohio prisons along with inmate deaths. More than 4,500 inmates system-wide have tested positive, or nearly one in 10, and 60 inmates have died, with deaths spread across seven institutions.

More than 570 employees have tested positive and two also have died, a guard and a nurse.

Ohio is second highest after Tennessee in its per-prisoner case rate and has the fourth-highest COVID prisoner death rate, according to an analysis of state prison cases by The Marshall Project, a nonprofit investigative news organization focused on the U.S. criminal justice system.

However, unlike in Ohio, Tennessee has ordered universal testing of all inmates, meaning Ohio’s numbers could be considerably higher.

Across the U.S., more than 25,000 inmates have tested positive for COVID-19, and at least 370 have died, according to the analysis. Thousands of correctional officers across the country have also tested positive.

Ohio’s current inmate population is 47,241, the lowest in several years. The state reduced the number of inmates by 1,839 since March 24 through a combination of early releases spurred by the coronavirus to ease crowding, regular releases for inmates whose sentences were up, and the state’s decision to temporarily stop taking male inmates during the pandemic.

Prisoner rights advocates immediately criticized the announcement, saying it flies in the face of what inmates and staff are experiencing. The advocates say Gov. Mike DeWine should take the opposite approach and release thousands of inmates from an overcrowded system.

“This new influx will roll back the small amount of progress made over the past several weeks,” said Piet van Lier, education researcher for Policy Matters Ohio.


The number of confirmed and probable deaths associated with the coronavirus in Ohio has reached 1,610, state health officials said Saturday.

The Ohio Department of Health posted information indicating that 1,457 deaths had been confirmed and another 153 were considered probable under guidelines issued by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The department said more than 25,800 cases had been confirmed and the number of confirmed and probable cases was just short of 27,400.

For most people, the virus causes mild or moderate symptoms that clear up in a couple of weeks. Older adults and people with existing health problems are at higher risk of more severe illness, including pneumonia, or death.


Associated Press data journalist Meghan Hoyer in Washington, D.C., contributed to this report.