Cleveland Activists Press Judges To Release Inmates From Ohio State Prisons

photo of justice center protest
Protestors gathered outside the Justice Center in Downtown Cleveland, to call for the release of inmates across Ohio. [Matthew Richmond / ideastream]
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A line of cars circled the Cuyahoga County Jail, honking horns and holding signs with “Free Them All” and “A Jail Sentence Is Not A Death Sentence,” while more protesters gathered at the bottom of the stairs on Lakeside Avenue.

Local activists called for the release of inmates from state prisons during the coronavirus pandemic at a rally today outside the Justice Center in Downtown Cleveland.

There have been 75 confirmed coronavirus deaths at state prisons in Ohio, including 14 at Marion Correctional Institution and 35 at the Pickaway Correctional Institution.

Gov. Mike DeWine’s administration in April identified about 200 inmates eligible for early release based on proximity to their release date, record in prison and nature of the crime that put them in prison.

One of the Friday demonstration organizers, Kevin Ballou of the Coalition to Stop the Inhumanity at the County Jail, said they had asked DeWine to release more inmates than that early in the pandemic.

“Unfortunately he hasn't been doing much,” Ballou said. “And so right now we are asking our judges to take action to save some lives.”

Hundreds of judicial release motions have been filed by the public defender’s office with little action taken by judges in Cuyahoga County, Ballou said.

According to Cuyahoga County Administrative Judge Brendan Sheehan, requests for judicial release are not taken lightly.

“Judicial release is not a quick process,” Sheehan told ideastream. “It involves an individual who has been sentenced to a state penitentiary for a felony crime, not someone who is being held in the Cuyahoga County Jail.”

The motions go to the prosecutor’s office for comment. Victims and police are given the opportunity to offer input. Then most of the motions go to Judge Nancy Margaret Russo’s specialized re-entry docket for consideration.

That process will continue during the pandemic, Sheehan said.

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