published Tuesday, May 20th, 2014

Sitting on death row, Ohio inmates complain about birds

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Inmates on Ohio's death row complain that birds and bird droppings are getting into their cells through open windows, according to a report released Monday by an inspection committee reviewing conditions at the prison where condemned killers are housed.

The state says it's addressing the problem, which apparently dates back at least two years, according to a complaint from one inmate in the report by the Correctional Institution Inspection Committee, a bi-partisan legislative panel that conducts unannounced reviews of the state's prisons.

"Put the screens on the outside of the windows as you promised for 2 years to keep out the birds," the inmate said, adding that the birds' droppings attract "vermin."

"Unsanitary," another inmate called the bird situation on death row, located at Chillicothe Correctional Institution south of Columbus. "It's filthy upstairs, dead rats, birds and bird poop is getting everyone sick."

The Department of Rehabilitation and Correction had ordered mesh screens before the committee's inspection in March and hopes to have them installed on windows and in the visitors' area by July, said spokeswoman JoEllen Smith.

"The goal is to have each window installed with the mesh screen, allowing the fresh airflow to continue but prevent access from birds entering through the windows," Smith said in an email.

While another inmate from the non-death row part of the prison complained of pigeon feces being "everywhere you walk and all over windows," many inmates said that they liked the fact that windows are open.

"Able to have open window for fresh air, this is nice," one death row inmate said.

The committee received 94 responses from the approximately 138 inmates on death row and gave the prison generally high marks, including on death row.

"Units are older, but were rated as good for cleanliness," the report said of the prison. "The bathrooms — previously the worst in the DRC — are in the process of being renovated."

State public defender Kathy Sandford said she saw a bird in the prison visiting area on a recent trip to see a client.

"Some of the inmates like the birds, some don't because of the mess they make," she said Monday.

Sandford also said inmates like the ability to open windows but would like air conditioning.

"Air conditioning or access to more and better quality fans," one inmate said in his response. "It is brutally hot during summer."

Inmates also complained about having to be handcuffed when taken to the showers and the lack of hot water in cells.

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