Centralized Booking At Cuyahoga Jail Delayed By County Council

photo of cuyahoga inmate
A Cuyahoga County inmate appears in front of Judge Brendan Sheehan in March 2020. [Matthew Richmond / ideastream]

Before approving a $3 million design and construction contract, Cuyahoga County Council members want assurances that a new centralized booking facility at the Justice Center in Downtown Cleveland would be used by Cleveland Municipal Court.

“Is this a ‘if we build it, they will come,’ or is it ‘if we build it, they might come?’” asked Michael Gallagher, chairman of Cuyahoga County Council’s public safety committee, during a meeting Tuesday.

Council members criticized county officials for seeking to move ahead without addressing the court’s concerns.

“I don’t think it’s unreasonable to have some sort of assuredness that Cleveland is going to participate in this,” Gallagher said. “I would assume that 99.9 percent they’re going to. But we don’t know that until we know that.”

According to county officials, Cleveland police and prosecutors have agreed to participate in centralized booking, but Cleveland Municipal Court’s presiding judge, Michelle Earley, has concerns about how the process will work.

The goal of the new facility would be to speed up charging and setting bail after people are arrested. It would be located within the county jail and have workspace for city and county prosecutors, jail staff, Cleveland Division of Police officers, public defenders, court representatives and pretrial services.

The county’s head of public safety, Robert Coury, said police officers would be able to speak directly with prosecutors about whether a felony or misdemeanor charge is appropriate when an arrest comes in. Public defenders would be available to argue for lighter charges or a lower bond.

“In order to have an effective program, you must include all the stakeholders in the justice system,” Coury said. “To make better, more informed and earlier, more timely decisions regarding the arrest, whether there is going to be a diversion, what the appropriate charge is and the release of the arrestee.’

The assumption is that a centralized booking system will help lower the jail population. At the same time, the county is also working on plans to build a new jail.

Council members agreed Cuyahoga County should wait on the contract and gather more information, but there is also pressure to put this process in place before moving ahead with plans for the new jail.

“The cost per additional cell over 30 years is in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, for one cell,” Councilman Dale Miller said. “We really need to put this program in place relatively quickly and find out what kind of impact it in fact is going to have so we can make the right decision on the size of the jail facility.”

The centralized booking facility was ultimately supported by the entire committee, but council members decided to hold the contract until its next meeting, in two weeks, and to invite Earley to explain her concerns about centralized booking.

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