Ohio Jail Releases Inmates Over Concern of Coronavirus Spread

March 17, 2020 Updated: March 17, 2020

A jail in Ohio released dozens of inmates early over concerns that they might contract the coronavirus and would spread it throughout the jail.

Judges in Cuyahoga County Court held a session on Saturday to settle a number of cases, allowing 38 inmates to be released after they appeared in court for low-level offenses, officials said, according to local media outlets.

“We didn’t just sit here and open the jailhouse doors and let people run out of the jail,” said Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Judge Brendan Sheehan, Fox8 reported. “We balanced the need to protect the public, and the safety of our inmates, and what we did is, instead of taking a timeline from here to here, we took that timeline and shrunk it to here,” said Sheehan.

Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Mike O’Malley told the station that there needs to be room inside the facility to potentially isolate inmates, adding that state prisons might not accept new inmates from local jails amid the pandemic.

“We have to acknowledge that that is a possibility, which makes every day critical, every day between now and God forbid, the day that they stop the flow of our prisoners,” O’Malley told the Fox affiliate.

Sheehan said nearly any type of inmate was considered for release.

“You gotta remember, the goal of this is to protect the community and the safety of the inmates. If someone’s a serious violent person, well, we’re using our discretion to make sure the community’s safe also,” he said, according to WKBN.

The Cuyahoga County Court decision comes as the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Office announced it will release some inmates in an attempt to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.

Sheriff Alex Villanueva told reporters Monday at a press conference that his department is reducing the jail population to curb the spread of the disease by more than 600 inmates, the Los Angeles Times reported.

Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.) has called for the commuting of prison sentences over the outbreak.

“I’m just advocating to make sure that when we are talking about those that are most vulnerable, our low-income residents and citizens, those experiencing homelessness, our seniors, that we are also including the incarcerated men and women who are certainly amongst one of the most vulnerable populations,” Pressley said.