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Cuyahoga County Executive Chris Ronayne has a short list for a new jail site

Democrat Chris Ronayne stands at podium before debating against Republican candidate Lee Weingart
Democrat Chris Ronayne stands at podium before debating against Republican candidate Lee Weingart at The City Club of Cleveland on Sept. 20. 2022.

The Cuyahoga County executive’s office has come up with a short list of potential sites for a new jail.

The county has not released the locations of those sites or the size of the jail they’re planning to build.

Cuyahoga County Executive Chris Ronayne also appeared to abandon a proposal to keep the newer of the two jail buildings in Downtown Cleveland, Jail II, while building a smaller second facility to replace Jail I.

“Since taking office the administration has explored renovation options with the current corrections facility and has made the determination that the current corrections center is challenging to maintain as a long-term solution for detention,” Ronayne’s office said in a press release.

County spokesperson Mary Louise Madigan said the search is not limited to sites within Cleveland and no decision has been made on how many beds will be needed.

“We’re looking for the best and most efficient site for the jail,” said Madigan. “While we do not have a site selected, wherever it is will be the site that works the best and is the most efficient for the taxpayers of Cuyahoga County.”

Madigan added there is a “preference” for sites within Cleveland.

During the most recent planning for a new jail, Cleveland officials said they wanted the jail to remain within the city.

The future of the court tower in Downtown Cleveland remains unclear, but there was no mention of also moving the courts to wherever the new jail is built.

Separating the courts will create new challenges transporting defendants to their court appearances and for lawyers traveling between their offices, which are concentrated in Downtown Cleveland, the courthouse and visits with their clients in the jail.

That decision also contradicts what Ronayne said while campaigning last year.

“To me, it's inefficient to separate the two, at a cost, and potentially even at a security risk for us,” Ronayne said in an interview with Ideastream Public Media.

Ronayne took over as county executive in January. His predecessor, Armond Budish, had selected a site in Cleveland near downtown for a jail with up to 2,400 beds.

That plan was scrapped before Budish left office, in part because Ronayne objected to the site.

During his campaign and shortly after the November election, Ronayne criticized the price tag for Budish’s proposal – around $700 million in September – and the contaminated site the county settled on.

He also said the previous plans were for a jail that was much too large.

“We ought to discipline ourselves to not overbuild, otherwise it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, and we just fill it,” Ronayne said at the time.

Ronayne also announced a new role this week, Justice Expeditor, whose job will be to lower the daily population at the current jail.

The Justice Expeditor “will work with Judges, the County Prosecutor, the Public Defender, community resources and jail administrators to connect those in detention with appropriate resources and to identify those who might be eligible for release with low bonds or who may be able to be relocated safely to other facilities.”

Any plans for a new jail will need approval from state regulators who will look at the average daily population at the current jail to determine whether the new one is large enough.

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