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Freeing inmates

With Ohio still a couple of weeks away from the expected peak of COVID-19 cases, Gov. Mike DeWine is considering release of some state prison inmates to hold the death toll down.

His concern is valid. Jails and prisons are playgrounds for communicable diseases, and COVID-19 is extraordinarily contagious.

Many county sheriffs already have taken similar action. Some have stopped accepting new inmates from other counties.

In Steubenville, Jefferson County Sheriff Fred Abdalla said a few days ago that, “We have released some” non-violent prisoners. Between that and suspending acceptance of inmates from other counties, the Jefferson County Jail population has been reduced by about 40, to 92 prisoners.

On Monday, DeWine noted increased concern about state corrections facilities. Five prisoners at one, the Marion Correctional Institution, have tested positive for COVID-19, he noted.

On Tuesday, DeWine said 26 inmates over age 65 with health problems are recommended for release, along with 141 others. All must go before a parole board and are men and women serving sentences for nonviolent, non-sexual offenses and inmates who are nearing dates on which they were to be set free.

“First of all, we’re not going to release anyone who is dangerous,” the governor emphasized. “We have a long list of the type of prisoners we are not releasing.”

Good. No one convicted of a violent crime of any nature should be considered for release. But some convicts serving time for certain nonviolent offenses should be kept behind bars. Some drug offenders and those with records of victimizing the elderly are in that category.

Some law enforcement agencies have scaled back arrests. That, too, is understandable — providing public safety is not jeopardized.

Those in the criminal element should not view COVID-19 as a “stay out of jail” card. Minor offenders may be entitled to some consideration by law enforcement agencies and jailers. But those accused or guilty of offenses that indicate they are clear and present dangers to society need to be arrested, or if they have been already, kept behind bars.

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