Update May 20:
From Lyn Tramonte :
Ohio Immigrant Alliance organized immigrant advocates to attend the [virtual] meeting of the Morrow County Health District on May 18. Here are links to the statement from Dr. Laura Chambers-Kersh and to mine, as well as a letter for Columbus City Council President Pro Tem, Liz Brown.
1) Ohio Immigrant Visitation has set up a fundraiser for the family of Oscar Lopez Acosta. They need to cover the cost of his cremation, rent, and other living expenses as well as medical bills. Donate here!
2) When people are being released from Morrow, they need to isolate for 14 days because they have COVID. Donate to our Hotel Quarantine fund here to ensure that everyone released has a safe place to stay.
3) Finally, while folks remain stuck inside, let’s do what we can to get them some commissary funds for snacks and basic necessities. Donate here!
Here's what's at stake:
The State of Ohio needs to shut down the Morrow County Jail. The jail is completely infected with COVID-19, and Sheriff Hinton has mismanaged both preparation and response. At least 70% of the inmates at Morrow County Jail are now infected with COVID-19. Fifty out of 72 men currently detained there have COVID-19, and 100% of the inmates and staff have been exposed.
No one in Morrow County Jail, including its staff, deserve the potential death sentence they are being handed by keeping the jail open.
Sign here. Read on for more information.
Specifically, Sheriff Hinton has:
- Failed to provide soap to inmates before mid-March, and failed to keep a consistent supply of soap and other cleaning products in the jail to this day.
- Stockpiled PPE, saving it until after the outbreak (by his own admission), and allowing the virus to infect staff and inmates.
- Continued to allow people to be transferred into and out of his facility, including from centers with known COVID cases (Butler County Jail and Franklin County Corrections Center), importing and exporting the virus.
- Failed to provide sick inmates with adequate health care, including Tylenol, and clean clothes. COVID-sick patients are denied Tylenol unless their temperatures reach 104. The laundry has been “broken” for a week and no new clothes or other workarounds have been employed.
- Allowed overdoses to happen in the midst of the pandemic. In April, Sheriff Hinton and his staff allowed multiple overdoses in the jail over a period of days. This is just another example of his mismanagement, and what he is trying to cover up.
- Lost the jail’s hot meals provider, and has been providing only cold bagged lunches to people who are grappling with a deadly virus.
- Refused to speak with the media. Granting only one media interview, to Columbus TV10, Hinton has refused to speak with the Columbus Dispatch, ABC 6 On Your Side, Mount Vernon News, and Progressive Magazine. He is a public official, accountable to taxpayers, and is avoiding this duty.
How did we get here?
Mismanagement (see above), as well as the financial decision to take on a federal contract with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in order to keep the jail in business. Morrow is one of the least-populated counties in Ohio, ranking 69 out of 88 according to the U.S. Census. The size of its population cannot support its own jail; indeed, other counties in Ohio with even larger populations use regional rather than county jails for this reason.
To keep Morrow County Jail open, the County decided to start holding federal immigration detainees for ICE, people who are accused of civil paperwork violations and are fighting their cases in immigration court. The federal government pays Morrow County $68.83 a day to feed, clothe, and care for each immigration detainee. Currently, the male population in the jail is 76% immigrant and 14% U.S.-born. In a county that is 99.6% U.S.-born, these inmates are not local. They come from across the state and even beyond, making the problems at Morrow County Jail a statewide and federal concern.
The COVID crisis is not the onset of the problems at Morrow County Jail, it has just raised the stakes for human life. In 2015, the Office of Detention Oversight at Enforcement and Removal Operations at ICE conducted a compliance inspection of the jail and found 55 violations. In February 2020, Freedom for Immigrants reported a series of violations that match conditions in the facility today. Lack of soap and hygiene products, forcing inmates to wear the same clothes for over a week, dirty bathrooms, failure to provide sufficient medical care, and other indignities that were previously harmful have now become deadly.
In 2018, the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction inspected the Morrow County Jail and found it to be out of compliance with numerous “essential” and “important” requirements contained in the Standards for Jails in Ohio. These violations included failures to 1) conduct health assessments of new detainees; 2) ensure medications are dispensed by trained personnel and there is a plan in place to handle incoming medications; 3) provide the required amount of sleeping space; and 4) provide clean mattresses, linens, towels, and blankets.
The jail was also found out of compliance with the standard that requires them to review, on an annual basis, “the fundamental aspects of the jail’s health/mental health care system, including but not limited to: access to care; the intake process; emergency care and hospitalizations; and, adverse inmate occurrences, including all deaths.” Simply put, the ODRC inspection showed that Morrow County Jail did not have the health or hygiene systems in place to handle a pandemic like COVID-19.
When Morrow County agreed to carry out ICE detention they made a financial decision. Now, this decision has put everyone’s life at risk–ICE detainees, individuals there in criminal custody, jail staff, and anyone who interacts with them. It’s time for Morrow County to cancel the contract with ICE and close the jail. People’s lives are at stake.