Corrections department changes inspections

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Ohio corrections officials will soon conduct surprise visits of jails and require mandatory reporting of incidents like suicides and escapes, following a string of lawsuits and inmate deaths in multiple county jails.

Starting this year, the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction will conduct annual full inspections on all standards which were were previously conducted around a subset of rules, the Dayton Daily News reported Tuesday. The state administrative code has also been changed to allow for unannounced inspections and mandatory reporting of all critical incidents.

Prior to the changes, reporting of in-custody deaths or use-of-force was optional.

Between May and December, before the reporting mandates took place, the department was notified of numerous incidents including 37 deaths — 16 of which were suicides, two serious suicide attempts, 25 escapes, three fires, three sexual misconducts and 19 other incidents at jails across Ohio. A spokeswoman with the department told The Associated Press in an email this week that these are the critical incidents reported to the agency and that the actual number might be different.

The department also updated rules for jails including establishing minimum space per inmate in different holding areas and putting limits on noise levels; providing access to reading materials, television viewing and exercise; and providing timely health, mental and dental care services. Inspection staff has also doubled from three to six people.

The changing practices were in response to a call for stepped up oversight of the 313 jails and temporary holding facilities across Ohio that Gov. Mike DeWine made in June, following a review prompted by discrepancies in reports about a county jail in Cleveland where eight inmates died in 2018.