The Cuyahoga County Correctional Center has been in the spotlight for months, following a U.S. Marshal Service report that publicly revealed what past and present inmates already knew. Seven people died in Cuyahoga County custody in 2018, six of them at the main Cuyahoga County jail.
Despite the attention the jail issues received near the end of the year, 2019 is not off to a better start. In mid-January, an inmate attempted suicide and jail personnel said the incident occurred in an area where a guard had been left to monitor twice the usual number of inmates.
The Marshals’ report findings included:
- That the correctional facility had an inadequate medical program and had provided “insufficient and unclear answers” regarding the six deaths mentioned above
- That food is used punitively, and detainees in Restrictive Housing Units (RHU) do not receive adequate calories or nutrition
- The facility was deemed non-compliant with the Prison Rape Elimination Act in 119 ways in 2015, and those issues have not been corrected
- The facility has failed to perform fire emergency drills or establish that staff is equipped to safely evacuate inmates in an emergency
- The correctinoal facility is overcapacity, resulting in inmates—including two pregnant women—sleeping on the floor
- Court meals were not properly refrigerated or stored
- Lack of running water or working toilets for detainees awaiting court
Cleveland.com reports that the county knew of the health care issues in the system before the chain of inmate deaths, including a shortage of nurses and conflicts within the medical administration.
County Council President Dan Brady is quoted as having said at a Council meeting in May, “It is not a line item [in a budget] somewhere. It is really a life-and-death situation that, if not handled properly, could lead to very big trouble.”
Corrective Measures in the Cuyahoga County Correctional System
Changes are taking place in the Cuyahoga County jail system, but thus far don’t seem to be addressing the larger, structural issues. The jail officer who claimed he was in a blackout when he attacked an inmate for seven minutes resigned and the one who ignored obvious signs of distress in an inmate who subsequently died of a drug overdose was fired. A warden was demoted for “nepotism,” because he had supervisory control over his wife.
But, the jail remains both overcrowded and understaffed: according to the U.S. Marshall report, the facility is authorized to employ 677 guards but has only budgeted and approved 615, and actually employs only 581. And, the overworked staff is among the lowest-paid in the state. Starting pay for guards in the Cuyahoga County system is just 63% of that received by newcomers in Franklin County. Starting rates lag $2.00 to $7.50 behind Hamilton, Lorraine, Clermont-Stark, Butler, Delaware, Lake, Montgomery, and Warren counties.
While the low pay rate and understaffing is partly due to budgetary issues, cooks in the Cuyahoga County system start at a higher rate of pay than the guards charged with both control of and responsibility for the welfare of inmates.
The Cuyahoga County Board of Control has contracted with a national law enforcement consulting company to suggest policy reforms in the system.
Securing an Experienced Criminal Defense Attorney is Imperative
Losing your freedom is bad enough, but when jail conditions threaten your safety it is all the more important to take advantage of every opportunity to avoid conviction or negotiate for a plea agreement that doesn’t leave you at the mercy of an overcrowded, understaffed system. Talking to an experienced Cleveland criminal defense attorney as early in the process as possible may be the most important step you take.
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The information presented in this post is not legal advice and does not form a lawyer/client relationship. Laws and circumstances can differ and change.
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