Ohio official says prisons must reopen even with high death toll

Published: May. 24, 2020 at 6:44 PM EDT
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Ohio has lost more inmates to COVID-19 than any other state, but the state prisons director says its prisons nonetheless must begin reopening to accommodate a slow return to business - and to crime.

The department has begun accepting new inmates from jails again and must soon resume the normal process of transferring inmates when necessary, Annette Chambers-Smith, head of the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction, said in an interview this week.

“The whole of the community is reopening, so when you reopen the community, you’re going to have more laws broken also,” she said. “So really when you restart the community, the entire process restarts.”

More than 600 employees systemwide have tested positive, along with more than 4,500 inmates. Of those, 66 inmates have died of confirmed or probable cases of COVID-19, with deaths spread across eight institutions.

Two guards and two nurses have died.

Ohio has recorded the most deaths of prisoners from COVID-19 and ranks second only to Tennessee in cases per 100,000 inmates, according to an analysis by The Marshall Project, a nonprofit news organization. Ohio also has the fourth-highest prisoner death rate.

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