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Cuyahoga County Looks To Reduce Euclid Jail Contract

Photo by Glenn Forbes
Photo by Glenn Forbes

Cuyahoga County may shorten its contract with the City of Euclid to operate a satellite jail there from five years to one year. The move, approved Tuesday by a County Council committee, comes as the county looks to restructure corrections-related contracts and potentially to build a new jail. 

"We're going to slow walk it, look at all the nooks and crannies," said Councilman Michael Gallagher, who chairs the Safety and Justice Affairs Committee. "Is it worth keeping our prisoners out there? We are opening more beds in the downtown jail. Does that take over for that?"

Gallagher said the county has lost money on deals at satellite jails in Euclid and Bedford, on agreements to house federal or city of Cleveland prisoners and on virtually every current contract related to its beleagured correctional operations.

Meawhile, the county is moving forward with improvements to medical and food services in the wake of a U.S. Marshals Service report calling conditions at the downtown jail "inhumane."

To cover those costs, Gallagher said the county may need to renegotiate contracts with municipalities and other law enforcement agencies to house their prisoners. It also has to consider the expected costs of building a new jail or doing extensive renovations to current facilities.

"Our jails are antiquated and years past their life span," Gallagher said. "So we have to add that in."

The U.S. Marshals Service now pays the county $81 a day for each inmate housed in the jails. Cleveland pays the county $99. 

Gallagher would like everyone to pay an equal rate, one based on what's needed to break even. As of March 27, 39 of the 83 beds in the Euclid facility were occupied, and the Sheriff's Department is looking at ways to fill the open beds.

The entire council could take up the safety committe's recommendation for a shorter lease with Euclid as early as next week.

County Public Safety and Justice Chief Brandy Carney told the committee the administration has made an offer to a new jail chief with extensive corrections experience. That person could start as soon as April 15. Former Jail Director Ken Mills resigned after the U.S. Marshals report was released in November. He  was indicted on corruption charges in January.

Carney also said the county and MetroHealth Medical System have signed a new contract that would turn over all medical services at the county jail to Metro. County Council still must approve the deal, which Gallagher said could take 30 to 60 days.

Last week, union representatives asked council to help nurses currently employed by the jail get new jobs with Metro. Gallagher said Metro has agreed to interview current staff.

"My understanding is that's going on and from what I understood today, that's going in a pretty good direction," Gallagher said. "Now, they won't be union. Metro's not union and that's unfortunately, just the way it is."

Gallagher said he supports unions, but council was put in a difficult spot after the marshals report cited several issues with medical care at the jail.

"I'm in a position where I've got to get a medical service downtown, the best that we can provide, at an incredibly high cost, and that's Metro and I couldn't be happier," Gallagher said. "We're trying to fix a problem downtown, and I don't want to be playing union politics with this."

The county is facing several lawsuits from inmates alleging mistreatment at the jail.

Glenn Forbes is supervising producer of newscasts at Ideastream Public Media.