23 Ohio death row inmates test positive for COVID-19


By Andrew Welsh-Huggins - Associated Press



COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — More than 20 Ohio death row inmates have tested positive for COVID-19 in an outbreak flaring up just this past week, The Associated Press has learned.

The Department of Rehabilitation and Correction confirmed the first case to the AP on July 24 but by Friday said the number had jumped to 23.

Thirteen of those inmates were tested based on their symptoms and 10 were asymptomatic and tested through contract tracing, said prisons spokesperson JoEllen Smith.

Medical staff are monitoring the inmates, who are being quarantined and isolated under the prison system’s coronavirus policy, Smith said.

The inmates are all housed at Chillicothe Correctional Institution in southern Ohio, where the state’s death row is based. All inmates there undergo daily symptom screening, Smith said.

Ohio has about 140 death row inmates, most housed at the Chillicothe prison. No executions are scheduled for this year as the state struggles to find drugs for its lethal injection process.

Ohio’s prison system is one of the hardest-hit in the country, with more than 5,200 inmates testing positive as of Thursday. In addition, 88 inmates have died from confirmed or probable cases of the coronavirus.

Virtually all prisons have cases, but the majority have been at Marion Correctional Institution in north-central Ohio and Pickaway Correctional Institution in central Ohio, which has a medical wing.

Nearly 1,000 prison system staff members have also tested positive, including the agency director, Annette Chambers-Smith, who announced her diagnosis last week. She is quarantining at home. Five staff members have died.

In Arizona, at least eight death row prisoners have tested positive for COVID-19, including Alfonso Salazar, who died in April from complications of COVID-19, said attorney Dale Baich, who leads death penalty appeals in the Federal Public Defender’s Office in Arizona. Baich confirmed the cases in his role as a lawyer representing the inmates.

The Arizona prisons department declined comment, citing the confidentiality of inmate medical records.

In California, following an outbreak at San Quentin State Prison, at least nine death row inmates have died following positive COVID-19 tests, with a tenth death suspected, according to state Department of Correction and Marin County Coroner’s Office records.

In Texas, death row inmates have sued over the state’s coronavirus prison measures. Earlier this month in Tennessee, a death row inmate received a rare temporary reprieve from Gov. Bill Lee after the Republican announced the execution would not take place this year because of the challenges and disruptions caused by the coronavirus.

By Andrew Welsh-Huggins

Associated Press