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On behalf of the Corrections Center of Northwest Ohio, CCNO Executive Director Dennis Sullivan filed suit against the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections (ODRC) in the Ohio Supreme Court Wednesday afternoon.

The underlying dispute is over who should accept the risks of COVID-19 exposure among inmates who have received prison sentences for felony convictions. The pre-pandemic Ohio Revised Code states that county jails like CCNO have five working days to transfer inmates to a state prison once they have received their sentence. But ODRC’s post-pandemic “Order 20-01,” issued in March, allows state prisons to refuse inmates with COVID-19 symptoms or a history of COVID-19 exposure. That is, if one inmate from one county jail tests positive for COVID-19, ODRC may refuse to accept all future inmates from that jail.

On April 22, the Bureau of Adult Probation cited Order 20-10 to suspend its obligation to receive inmates from CCNO due to “alleged spread of COVID-19.” And on May 15 the Ohio Reformatory for Women did the same, refusing inmates from all local facilities within the state. ODRC’s ad hoc policy now requires all county jails to quarantine inmates after sentencing for at least 14 days before they attempt to transfer to them to any state facility.

Sullivan argues these decisions were arbitrary, under specific conditions unilaterally established by ODRC and inconsistent with Ohio law.

“Center for Disease Control guidelines state the implementation of COVID-19 protocols should be guided by what is feasible, practical and acceptable,” Sullivan said. “Implementation should be tailored to the needs of each facility and the guidance may need to be adapted based on individual facilities’ physical space, staffing, population, operations and other resources and conditions.”

Sullivan is asking the Ohio Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus to suspend ODRC’s mandate requiring county jails to quarantine prison transfers, in light of the fact that ODRC also conducts a 14-day quarantine after the transfer is complete.

“I’m unsure if the state has considered the immense impact these restrictions have placed on facilities’ classification needs,” he said. “Our separation beds are monopolized by prison transport inmates for 14 days. These are inmates that have been incarcerated in our facility; we know exactly where they’ve been and who they’ve been in contact with. This lengthy requirement makes it impossible to separate our routine new book-ins, ones who we have no way of knowing whom they’ve been in contact with.”

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