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Arrival Of National Guard Offers Cuyahoga Jail Staff A 'Morale Booster'

The Justice Center in Downtown Cleveland includes the courthouse, Cleveland police department headquarters and the jail. [Nick Castele / ideastream]
photo of justice center

About 50 Ohio National Guard troops arrived at the Cuyahoga County jail this week to help cover for dozens of staff who are out for coronavirus-related reasons.

According to Warden Michelle Henry, Guard members are available to cover staff shortages throughout the jail, from intake through security.

“It’s affected everyone, from our corporals to our sergeants to our corrections officers,” Henry said. “This pandemic hasn’t been easy on anyone and unfortunately it’s hit all areas of the jail.”

Jail officials and the state of Ohio will evaluate whether the National Guard is still needed and how many each week.

Early in the pandemic, Gov. Mike DeWine assigned troops to cover staff shortages at Ohio’s state prisons. He recently asked the state prison authority to send some of those troops to county jails, if requested.

“It’s been the morale booster we’ve needed,” Henry said. “It’s providing some of my staff, who’ve been working multiple shifts day after day, with some much-needed rest.”

The increase in COVID-19 cases inside the Cuyahoga County jail has followed closely behind a spike in cases in the community and across the state. In mid-November, the jail had only three confirmed cases among inmates. That number ballooned to almost 300 by mid-December.

Local officials have sought to reduce the number of inmates, currently at 1,351, to help contain the spike. County prosecutor Michael O’Malley recently reached an agreement with the state to speed up the transfer of sentenced inmates from the jail into state prisons.

The jail also has stopped accepting misdemeanor arrests from municipalities throughout the county. County officials estimate the inmate population needs to be at around 1,000 to properly quarantine new arrivals who could be bringing in the virus.

Matthew Richmond is a reporter/producer at Ideastream Public Media who focuses on criminal justice.