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As a new strain of coronavirus (COVID-19) swept through the world in 2020, preparedness plans, masking policies and more public policy changed just as quickly. WVXU has covered the pandemic's impact on the Tri-State from the very beginning, when on March 3, 2020, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine barred spectators from attending the Arnold Sports Festival in Columbus over concerns about the virus, even though Ohio had yet to confirm a single case of COVID-19.

Hamilton Co. Sheriff Releasing Non-Violent Inmates To Lower Risk of COVID-19

jim neil
Courtesy of WCPO
Sheriff Jim Neil says in the wake of COVID-19, the court is allowing him to take an unusual step.

The Hamilton County Common Pleas Court has taken the unprecedented step of giving Sheriff Jim Neil permission to release non-violent, low-level felony offenders at the jail who are unable to make bond. During a Friday news conference, Neil said there will not be a mass release and the reduction in jail population will help reduce the spread of COVID-19.

Neil says the goal is to get the number of people housed in the jail down to 840 so each inmate can have his or her own cell. With the "Process Only Procedure," the Hamilton County Justice Center population has been reduced from 1,400 to 1,100.

The sheriff is working with healthcare professionals to identify inmates at risk of getting the coronavirus - considering things like age and underlying health factors - and having them released. During the news conference, Neil said he will assess other inmates who are eligible for release and consult with the prosecutor's office and pre-trial services.

To help further reduce risk, Sheriff Neil is:

  • suspending all inmate visits with family and friends
  • limiting all visits from professionals and made them non-contact
  • checking temperatures of prisoners entering the jail 
  • monitoring newly arrested individuals. Those exhibiting symptoms will be masked immediately and will be monitored by a medical health care provider
  • quaranting general population inmates who develop symptoms to their cells and monitoring them by medical personnel
Ann Thompson has decades of journalism experience in the Greater Cincinnati market and brings a wealth of knowledge and expertise to her reporting.