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Ohio ACLU Working To Keep Jail Population Down During COVID-19

The ACLU says Hamilton County took steps early on to reduce the number of prisoners during COVID-19.
The ACLU says Hamilton County took steps early on to reduce the number of prisoners during COVID-19.

As COVID-19 cases continue to pop up across Ohio, the American Civil Liberties Union wants to make sure inmates in county jails aren't subjected to unnecessary risk. The ACLU is asking county prosecutors and judges to come up with a strategy to keep jail populations down during the pandemic.

The organization has sent a letter to over 450 criminal legal stakeholders in Ohio with what it calls "urgent recommendations to mitigate the ongoing risks associated with COVID-19 for incarcerated populations."

The ACLU wants money bonds reduced or eliminated that are keeping people in jail. It also wants inmates released who are:

  • Held on certain offenses
  • Who would be sentenced to probation
  • Who have six months or less left remaining on their sentence
  • Who are medically vulnerable

Policy Strategist Sabrina Harris has been tracking jail populations around the state. "We've started to hear reports of county jail populations rising. Again, we want to make sure local stakeholders know that now is not the time to go back to the status quo."

Harris praises Hamilton County as one of the early adopters of the ACLU strategy. "They have taken steps to reduce or eliminate money bonds as well as release certain categories of people, including those in jail for certain offenses or those who are medically vulnerable," she says.

WVXU tried to get reaction to the ACLU request from prosecutors in Hamilton, Butler, Clermont, Warren and Montgomery counties but none responded in time for this story.

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With more than 30 years of journalism experience in the Greater Cincinnati market, Ann Thompson brings a wealth of knowledge and expertise to her reporting. She has reported for WKRC, WCKY, WHIO-TV, Metro Networks and CBS/ABC Radio. Her work has been recognized by the Associated Press and the Society of Professional Journalists. In 2019 and 2011 A-P named her “Best Reporter” for large market radio in Ohio. She has won awards from the Association of Women in Communications and the Alliance for Women in Media. Ann reports regularly on science and technology in Focus on Technology.