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Cuyahoga County Jail Population Reduced By 200, Visitations Cut Back

The Justice Center in Downtown Cleveland houses both the Cuyahoga county jail and courthouses. While Administrative Judge Brendan Sheehan says courtrooms will remain open, operations will be drastically reduced. [Matthew Richmond / ideastream]
photo of justice center

Updated: 9:28 a.m., Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Courts in Cuyahoga County have moved more than 200 prisoners out of the jail since Saturday, with the help of extra hearings over the weekend and on Monday.

The extra hearings are one of several measures meant to prevent a coronavirus outbreak at the courthouse and in the jail.

"The expedited hearings are sending people on to prison or releasing them if they don't need to be in jail," Administrative Judge Brendan Sheehan said. "All so there's room to quarantine people."

Before being admitted to Downtown Cleveland jail, new inmates now get a health screening. If coronavirus is suspected, the plan is to quarantine the prisoner in the jail.

Cuyahoga County also announced changes to jail visits Tuesday. In-person visitation is suspended except for essential meetings between attorneys and clients. Families of inmates can still schedule off-site video visits. The county is offering one free video call a week, after a paid system for video visitation was met with backlash and removed

The courts are suspending trials indefinitely. Arraignments, where bail is set, will be conducted by video. The court will continue to issue civil protection orders, but all other civil cases are suspended. Extra hearings, which often result in plea deals, will continue through Thursday. 

But because the county’s order to close buildings does not include the courts, those buildings remain open for essential functions of the justice system, said Darren Toms, Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas public information officer in a late Tuesday email.

Courtrooms remain open to the public and officials are working with Cuyahoga County to get a coronavirus screening process in place there by Thursday.

"We are asking that people do not come to the buildings unless they have been specifically instructed to report, or they have a hearing already scheduled," Toms wrote.

Matthew Richmond is a reporter/producer focused on criminal justice issues at Ideastream Public Media.