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How the Ohio Prison System is Trying to Change

On Behalf of | Oct 20, 2021 | Wrongful Death

American jails are increasingly deadly places. New data from the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) serves as a reminder that prisons today are dangerous, even deadly places. Thousands die in custody every year from major or unnamed illnesses, and an alarming number of deaths are caused by “unnatural” causes like suicide, homicide, and drug or alcohol intoxication. Here in the Ohio prison system, ten prison workers have been named in an investigation into the beating and death of 55-year old Michael McDaniel at the Correctional Reception Center in Orient.

Former Cuyahoga County Jail Director Ken Mills was accused of negligence and mismanagement of the jail that led to a string of inmate deaths in 2018. A report by the U.S. Marshals called conditions inside the jail “inhumane.” Mills was recently convicted on four counts of falsification and dereliction of duty.

Corrections officers need to address overcrowding and understaffing concerns that go back to the 1990s. These issues have only been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Jail Death Statistics

In 2018, the most recent year for which prison death statistics are available, state prisons reported that 1,120 people died in local jails. This is the highest number on record since the BJS started collecting mortality data in 2001. Between 2017 and 2018, the prison mortality rate increased from 151 deaths per 100,000 people to 154.

In addition to unsafe conditions in American jails and prisons, many inmates suffer from pre-existing mental health needs. When left untreated, these mental health conditions are exacerbated by time in prison. This can lead to feelings of despair, being disconnected, and other forms of psychological distress. As a result, an additional 340 inmates committed suicide in 2018, also the highest number since 2001.

Changes in Monitoring in the Ohio Prison System

As a result of the spate of deaths in Ohio correctional facilities, Annette Chambers Smith, Director of the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections (ODRC), has called for upgrades to cameras in all Ohio prisons to allow them to hold 45 days of video. The DRC is also in the process of outfitting corrections workers with body cameras.

As a result of the spate of deaths in Ohio correctional facilities, Annette Chambers Smith, Director of the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections (ODRC), has called for upgrades to cameras in all Ohio prisons to allow them to hold 45 days of video. The DRC is also in the process of outfitting corrections workers with body cameras.

Ohio Criminal Justice Reform

Governor Mike DeWine has signed into law various criminal justice reform bills. Some of the changes include:

  • Broadening the use of diversion programs for people who complete drug or alcohol treatment programs
  • Ending the shackling of pregnant prisoners while giving birth
  • Allowing people to perform community service to pay driver’s license fines
  • Making it easier for felons to obtain professional licenses
  • Stopping executions of the mentally ill
  • Giving teenagers who commit crimes the option of parole

The new laws decrease the severity of “collateral consequences” of a criminal conviction and allow people who have served their time to move on with their lives.

DeWine also directed the ODRC to change its post-release control supervision of former inmates.

The new policy calls for the development of crime-scene correlation technology that links to a centralized database of offenders who are on electronic monitoring. The new system will allow investigators to compare crime-scene addresses to the GPS data of offenders on post-release control. Investigators will be able to quickly determine whether a person on electronic monitoring was at the scene when a crime was committed. If so, law enforcement will be able to make an arrest before another crime is committed.

DeWine introduced additional changes to post-release control that include:

  • Reducing parole officers’ caseloads
  • Placing specific offenders, such as sex offenders and people who suffer from mental illnesses, with parole officers who have experience supervising these populations
  • Developing a case-assignment process that balances the number of offenders supervised by a parole officer with the offender’s risk level

Governor DeWine and Director Chambers Smith are taking concrete steps to try to change what happens to people after they are convicted of a crime. From making conditions inside a prison more humane to decreasing the amount of time an inmate spends in prison and using GPS and other technology to allow for better post-release supervision, these changes are intended to make the Ohio prison system a safer place and decrease the length of time inmates are required to spend in the system.

Nonetheless, Ohio jails and prisons remain dangerous places where thousands of people die every year.

Robenalt Law: Fighting for People Injured or Killed in the Ohio Prison System

If you or someone you love was injured in jail or the Ohio prison system, you may be entitled to compensation. Section 1983 of the United States Code allows a person to seek compensation for injuries or death caused by government officials. To succeed, you must prove that a prison official violated your Constitutional rights while acting under color of law.

These cases are exceedingly complex and should not be attempted without the assistance of an experienced personal injury lawyer.

The Robenalt Law Firm has represented numerous plaintiffs in civil rights lawsuits against the Ohio prison system and other government officials. If successful, you may be entitled to compensatory damages and punitive damages. In many cases, a successful plaintiff is entitled to have their attorney’s fees paid by the defendants.

Robenalt Law offers a free, confidential consultation to discuss your situation. If we determine that your case has merit, we will request security footage, prison records, medical records, reports, and duty logs. Our attorneys will investigate the case and fight for the compensation you deserve.

Meet our lawyers, learn why clients choose us, and get answers to Frequently Asked Questions. Then contact us today to schedule a free and confidential consultation to discuss your case.

Tom Robenalt started his litigation career at a large firm in Cleveland where he represented corporate defendants and insurance companies. For the past 25 years, he has used that experience to help victims and their families secure compensation for injuries and wrongful death that occur when people are placed under arrest or are in prison.