COLUMBUS, Ohio — Gov. Mike DeWine issued a proclamation Friday offering the Ohio National Guard to help local jails cover staffing shortages caused by the spread of the coronavirus.
The proclamation is a response to “the significant number of COVID-19 infections amongst state, county, and local corrections officers that has reduced staffing levels required to maintain safe and adequate security at some facilities,” a statement from the governor’s office said.
DeWine spokesman Dan Tierney said as of Friday afternoon, no one yet had requested the National Guard yet. But he said jail officials, like those in other industries, have conveyed to the governor’s office that they’re struggling with the issue.
“This is to put us in the position if the request is made to assist in a more expeditious fashion,” he said.
Cuyahoga County plans to take the state up on the offer to help with an emerging coronavirus outbreak at the county jail, said Bob Coury, the county’s public safety chief.
“Inmate safety is always of paramount concern. We understand the health risk that COVID can present. We will continue to provide the best care possible for the inmates who remain and assure a safe environment for our employees,” Coury said.
COVID-19 cases at the jail more than doubled on Thursday from 78 on Wednesday to 190 on Thursday. The number grew to 237 on Friday. The previous high was 61. Another 570 inmates are in isolation after possibly being exposed to the coronavirus, according to Cuyahoga County officials. The county jail population is around 1,350.
DeWine previously authorized the National Guard to help staff state prisons. The new proclamation expands that to cover “any correctional facility, county jail, or confinement facility in the state.”
Besides staffing issues, the coronavirus outbreak also is causing the county jail’s inmate population to swell, according to Cuyahoga County officials.
Cuyahoga County Sheriff David Schilling and Prosecutor Michael O’Malley sued the state Friday, asking the Ohio Supreme Court to order the state prison system to admit all inmates from the Cuyahoga County Jail who have received prison sentences. They said the state’s policy of accepting inmates “on a case-by-case basis,” and the requirement that the county place all inmates sentenced to prison in quarantine for 14 days before sending them off to the prison intake center. Those policies run afoul of a state law that says county sheriffs have five working days after a jail inmate is sentenced to prison to transport the person to prison, the complaint says.
As of the most recent numbers released Thursday by the Ohio Department of Corrections, 624 staff and 370 inmates at state prisons currently are infected with COVID-19. There are around 45,000 inmates in state prisons, and around 12,000 people work for the state prison system. The Ohio National Guard currently is working in 13 state prisons to help cover staffing shortages, according to the Columbus Dispatch.
Cleveland.com / Plain Dealer reporter Courtney Astolfi contributed to this story.