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With Sean's Law, Antonio Wants Proper Healthcare For Addicted Inmates

Ohio’s Department of Corrections (DOC) would have to establish procedures for dealing with inmates who are addicted to drugs, alcohol or prescription medication, if a bill introduced this week by State Sen. Nickie Antonio (D-Lakewood) becomes law.

Sean's Law, named after Sean Levert, the son of O'Jay's singer Eddie Levert, who died in the Cuyahoga County jail in 2008, partly due to withdrawal from prescription Xanax.

"Sean even said to the folks who were in the jail at the time 'You know I have my medication on me, can I just take it?' and while we understand they're not allowed to do that, that would be the time to have a professional come in who understands maybe what he needed.

"It also directs the DOC to develop protocols to identify, screen and monitor, treat and record the findings of inmates at risk of withdrawal," Antonio said during a Tuesday press conference.

Those recorded findings would be available in inspection reports.

"I think it's time for change," said Sean's widow, Angela Levert. "It's time for reform so that other families won't have to deal with what we've been going through the last 12 years."

Screening, intake and proper treatment for inmates addicted to narcotics has been a key issue in Cuyahoga County since a 2018 report on the jail from U.S. Marshal's described conditions as inhumane and lacking adequate medical care.

Nine inmates died in more than a year between June 2018 and May 2019 and several deaths were attributed to suicides and overdoses. A former warden was sentenced to a year of probation for falsification and obstruction of justice related to on overdose death in the jail.

MetroHealth Hospital took over medical care at the downtown jail several months ago after a deal to expand their authority and services was announced last year.

Antonio said sheriffs across the state have told her about jails are becoming detox centers and how their counties are taking steps to hire healthcare personnel, including in Cuyahoga County.

"They've hired MetroHealth to specifically work with folks in the jail there and so everything is a step in the right direction, but at the same time, and one of the concerns I've heard from some of the sheriffs is, 'Are you going to make me spend money I don't have?,” she said.

Funding should be available to pay for this necessary type of healthcare, Antonio said, and counties should look for ways to collaborate with healthcare professionals.

Antonio also introduced a separate jail reform bill that would require bringing in an outside expert to monitor jails that are continuously out of compliance, allow the DOC to file a lawsuit to force compliance and as a last resort, permit the DOC to suspend operations at noncompliant jails.

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