ACLU Questions Transfers From Juvenile Detention Center To County Jail

Cuyahoga County Juvenile Detention Center
Cuyahoga County Juvenile Detention Center [Matt Richmond / ideastream]

The ACLU of Ohio says lawyers for the Cuyahoga County Juvenile Court are reviewing a letter the organization sent questioning transfers from the juvenile detention center to the county jail.

Earlier this week, the ACLU wrote asking to meet with the court's Administrative Judge Kristin Sweeney to learn why 34 youth have been sent to the troubled county jail. The ACLU says juveniles are being transferred at “an alarming rate, especially given the dangerous situation at the Cuyahoga Jail and the improvements we have seen at the JDC.”

State law allows youth to be sent from a juvenile to an adult facility if the transfer is in their best interest. But the ACLU says the center is misusing the law.

The ACLU reviewed detention center records and found youth were transferred for refusing to attend school, vandalism, and being disruptive. One youth was transferred so they could drop out of high school and get a GED, says Claire Chevrier, advocacy counsel with the ACLU of Ohio.

“Some of the rationales being used in Cuyahoga County are, ‘Well, there’s a GED program at the jail, but not at the detention center. This youth is not going to graduate. They may as well drop out of school,’ is what (the court) is suggesting and start the GED program,” she said.

But Chevrier says the jail is in “crisis” and the juvenile court should explore solutions that wouldn’t put youth “at risk.” The letter suggested so-called age appropriate strategies including in-school suspension when youth are disruptive.

In a written statement, court spokesperson Mary Davidson says the most common reason why youth are transferred is if they endanger others at the juvenile facility, especially if they’re over 18.

“It’s illogical for middle school students and violent college age students to be confined in the same facility,” said Davidson. She adds that decisions occur only after the juveniles have had a full hearing.

But the ACLU's Chevrier says the jail is not the place for them.

“We know the Cuyahoga Correctional facility is a dangerous facility where nine people have died. We think there are other solutions that wouldn’t put juveniles at risk,” said Chevrier.  

Besides the deaths, seven current and former guards as well as the former warden have been indicted on a number of charges including assault, tampering with evidence and dereliction of duty for ignoring a dying inmate.

The court spokesperson says, “if there are concerns about the safety of Detention Center residents who are transferred to the County Jail, the answer is to make the County Jail safe. It is not to make the Juvenile Detention Center less safe by increasing its population with violent residents.”

The detention center has faced its own set of problems. In January 2018, youth fought and vandalized a pod at the center. In October, the county paid almost $200,000 to four youth who said guards had them fight against each other. In May, the county fired center administrator Delbert Montgomery for mismanagement and harassment after less than a year on the job. His replacement, Donald Shewalter resigned after a half day on the job.

But Chevrier says the center has progressed on several recommended reforms, including more activities and better education for the youth. The improvement means it’s a better place for youth than a "dangerous adult facility," she says.

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