On Friday, May 15, 2020, Patituce & Associates filed a lawsuit against Governor Mike DeWine and the Department of Rehabilitation and Correction Director Annette Chambers-Smith on behalf of inmates within the Ohio prison system who may be susceptible to illness or death stemming from COVID-19 exposure. The suit asks for the release of thousands of prisoners who have serious health conditions, are older, were imprisoned for low-level offenses, or have served a majority of their time.
The lawsuit was not filed to recover compensation for inmates, but rather to remove them from prisons where they are at a greater risk of being infected with COVID-19. Attorney Joseph Patituce told Cleveland.com that "[the lawsuit] is to keep people from dying in a prison cell when they shouldn't."
In the early days of the novel coronavirus outbreak, Governor DeWine and health officials enacted orders to slow the spread of the disease in Ohio. The measures included practicing social distancing and prohibiting gatherings with 10 or more people, among others. Within the prison system, such actions are nearly impossible to implement. Ohio's prisons hold over 40,000 inmates, who often share cells and are in cramped quarters with one another. Under these conditions, the disease can and has spread quickly.
According to the Department of Rehabilitation and Correction's site, of the 8,014 inmates tested as of May 19th, 4,527 have tested positive for COVID-19, and 61 have died due to complications from the disease. Additionally, there have been 4 staff member COVID-19-related deaths.
The lawsuit claims that the safety measures enacted in response to COVID-19 have done little to slow the spread within the prison system. Failing to release inmates is a violation of constitutional rights and a humanitarian issue.
The lawsuit has made the following requests:
- Release inmates diagnosed with serious illnesses that make them more susceptible to COVID-19 and complications arising from the disease
- Release inmates convicted of fifth- and fourth-degree felonies
- Release inmates convicted of third-degree felonies if it was their first offense or they have served 50% or more of their sentence
- Release inmates convicted of first- and second-degree felonies if they are 55 years of age or older and have served 10 years or two-thirds of their sentence
At Patituce & Associates, we are committed to protecting the rights of prisoners during the pandemic. If your loved one is incarcerated and you're worried about their health because of COVID-19, contact our Cleveland attorneys by calling (440) 709-8088 to discuss your legal options.