Cuyahoga County Council Optimistic On Jail Improvements

Cuyahoga County Jail
Cuyahoga County Jail [Nick Castele / ideastream]
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The Cuyahoga County Jail is slowly making progress according to the Cuyahoga County council members who received an update on the troubled facility Tuesday.

A new food service vendor specializing in serving corrections facilities has been selected and Metro Health will handle all medical issues – including mental health evaluations – for county inmates. Jail officials expect both services to be completely outsourced by the end of October.

“We’re very happy that the meals are going to be taken care of almost at the same time Metro is going to be taking over, so those are very important things, I think, moving forward," said District 5 County Councilman Mike Gallagher, who heads the public safety and justice affairs committee.

Interim Cuyahoga County Sheriff David Schilling says MetroHealth Hospital’s increased involvement in the jail has helped mental health screening for inmates.

“They're being seen fairly quickly,” Schilling said. “I get the numbers every morning and if they give a number of 20, we're seeing 20. So those issues are being immediately addressed at booking.”

More than 1,000 anti-suicide blankets are needed as part of the effort to address the high number of suicides at the jail. But so far, there are only 100 on hand. The quilted blankets are difficult to tear, so they can’t be twisted into knots or nooses. Jail administrator Ronda Gibson says vendors are having trouble filling such a large order.

“We have made a very large order with intent to distribute those in the high-risk areas of the jail,” she told council members. “Unfortunately, the vendors do not carry the large quantity that we’re requesting. They will come in small quantities and as we get those, we will distribute those in the high-risk areas.”

But council president Dan Brady, who also sits on the committee, was skeptical about the delay.

“I have a hard time believing that these blankets are not available,” he said. “There’s a lot of large prisons in this country, and this business about how many we buy… it doesn’t seem to be happening fast enough for me.”

Schilling says he knows the downtown jail is broken, they need to fix it and his new staff won't stop until it's done.

Schilling said he is encouraged by recent conversations regarding a new justice center.

“I don't know how far away we are right now as far as getting a facility built, but I think with the people involved in that steering committee, I'm confident we're going to achieve that fairly quickly, Schilling said.

The changes outlined Tuesday follow recommendations for a facility dogged by inmate deaths, allegations of mistreatment and lawsuits.

The latest suit against the county was filed Monday by former inmate Corrionne Lawrence, who alleges he was beaten and threatened for speaking with the U.S. Marshals investigating conditions at the building last fall. In August, former warden Eric Ivey pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice and lying. When an inmate overdosed, Ivey told corrections officers to turn off their body cameras. Then he lied to investigators about the reasons for the order. 

Nine inmates have died since 2018, and the FBI is presently investigating civil rights violations at the facility. 

Still, Gallagher remains hopeful about a turn-around. 

"These are suits from days gone by and we're going to have to deal with those as they come. We'll deal with (suits) but moving forward, we want to avoid those." 

The most important task is building a new jail, according to council members and jail officials.

“I think it’s time, I think it’s important that we get a facility built that’s going to encompass the needs of the people that we service,” said county sheriff David Schilling. “I’m confident we’re going to achieve that fairly quickly.”

ideastream's Glenn Forbes contributed to this report.

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