Coronavirus: Local jails, Ohio prisons stop visitation; courts remain open

Montgomery County Jail
Montgomery County Jail

The Montgomery County Jail suspended inmate visitation Friday over concerns about coronavirus and Ohio’s governor said he will order all the state’s jails follow suit.

Other U.S. correctional facilities have made similar moves. It’s thought captive inmate populations could be especially at risk of an outbreak as they are forced to live within close quarters.

Also, the Dayton Municipal Court announced Friday that it will postpone all jury trials until after April 30.

Montgomery County Sheriff Rob Streck said the jail here has about 850 to 880 inmates each day, as well as 140 employees.

“Our biggest concern right now is intake,” he said.

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The jail has talked with its vendor and will provide inmates one free call per day and two free emails so they can better stay in touch with family, friends and loved ones since they cannot see them in person, Streck said.

Placing calls and sending emails usually has a fee. The jail also is working with its vendor try to have its video visitation up and running soon, ahead of schedule, Streck said.

The jail, which is about 200,000 square feet, is tight quarters but it does have areas where inmates can be quarantined if need be, including a special medical cell where air and viruses won’t be able to get out, officials said.

The jail has doubled its disinfectant schedule and is focused on cleaning common areas, and it is allowing inmates to get cleaning materials upon request, Streck said.

All programming for nonvital personnel has been shut down and the jail is following CDC protocols, he said.

The jail has dorms with bunk beds, with the largest holding 62 people, and its pods can hold about 144 people, but inmates can be put in separate cells and locked down if needed, Streck said.

Streck said he understands the lack of in-person visits will be tough on inmates and the people they care about.

“This is something that will be evaluated constantly, and the minute we can open back up we will,” he said.

He said the jail is short-staffed and the facility cannot afford for staff to get sick.

Dayton Municipal Court Clerk Mark Owens said all eviction cases and jury trials will not be heard until April 30.

“Traffic and criminal cases that are deemed necessary will also be continued until after April 30,” Owens said. “Protection orders, violent crims, DUIs and other major cases will continue to be heard.”

Meanwhile, Montgomery County Common Pleas Judge Mary Wiseman told the Dayton Daily News the common pleas court is open and there are no plans to close.

“We have to be very conscious of our constitutional and statutory obligations,” Wiseman said. “We want everyone to know that the justice system is up, it’s running and it’s operational.”

The judge said the court has met with public health agencies and other leaders to discuss how to ensure it’s making the best decisions for the community. Extensive and thorough cleanings after use of facilities and public spaces are being done every day at the courthouse, Wiseman said.

In Greene County, Judge Stephen Wolaver said the situation in that courthouse is fluid, but he believes it is essential that it remains open.

“It’s a matter of public safety,” Wolaver said. “We have people in jail whose cases need to be addressed, they have speedy-trial rights and trials that need to be resolved. We handle matters every day that have great impacts on people’s lives and we need to stay here as long as we can and maintain our services for the people.”

An order issued by Wolaver on Friday says the court will take the public health crisis into consideration when making judgments.

Greene County Major and Jail Administrator Kirk Keller said his jail will follow DeWine’s orders and are also working to only allow essential staff in the building during the pandemic.

Miami County Sheriff Dave Duchak said in a statement that his office is also taking steps to ensure public safety.

“I want to reassure the citizens of this county that essential emergency services will be maintained,” Duchak said.

Meanwhile, prisons across Ohio have also barred visitors.

The Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction suspended inmate visits as it works to try to prevent COVID-19 from spreading among the prison population.

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The department says it has been working with the Ohio Department of Health to coordinate its response to the rapidly spreading coronavirus.

The department director is communicating each day with prison wardens and regional directions of the Adult Parole Authority.

“There is also frequent communication with staff and incarcerated individuals,” said JoEllen Smith, a department spokesperson.

Volunteer activities and visits have been suspended, and the department is working to expand alternative ways for inmates to communicate with loved ones, she said.

The department is expanding video visitation and phone call opportunities and visits will be re-established as soon as it is safe, Smith said.

People who enter the facilities and offices are subject to health screenings, and the department of corrections is making arrangements for “non-critical” staff to work from home, she said.