Cuyahoga County Jail Redesign Aims To Accommodate Fluctuating Population

The Justice Center in Downtown Cleveland
The Cuyahoga County Jail is currently housed in the Justice Center complex in Downtown Cleveland, which includes the courts and the police headquarters. [Nick Castele / Ideastream Public Media]
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The process of creating a new jail for Cuyahoga County is underway. But officials say work still needs to be done to reduce the systemic issues that led to overcrowding at the current facility.

Court officials reduced the jail population to prevent the spread of the coronavirus during the pandemic, said redesign project manager Jeffrey Applebaum. But the inmate population is rising again, he said, and the new facility needs to accommodate the expected number of inmates even if it’s above desired levels.

“We would not build a jail that is too small from day one, nor would they permit us to do that,” Applebaum said at a Thursday meeting of the Justice Center Executive Steering Committee.

Previous discussions have led to a projected baseline number between 1,600 and 2,400 beds, Applebaum said, but determining how many are necessary relies on trends at the current jail.

The average daily inmate population so far in 2021 is 1,503, Applebaum said, but that doesn’t fully depict the trends. The jail had a daily average of about 1,340 inmates in January, he said, but in August that was up to 1,632.

The jail design will allow flexibility in the number of beds to allow for adjustments as the population fluctuates, he said, but that’s difficult to anticipate without data on what methods work to keep population down, especially with the impact of the coronavirus.

“It’s going to be very difficult to build from day one based on trends that we don’t see,” Applebaum said. “If the trend is not stable or coming down, it will be difficult.”

The county also is opening two positions to help manage inmate population. A position in the sheriff’s department to analyze jail data will be posted Friday, and a new jail population manager position reporting to the county chief of staff will open next week.

The current concept calls for merging the sheriff’s offices with the jail and housing it all in one building.

“Philosophically, everyone’s on board and it’s going to be a more efficient and effective building,” Applebaum said. “And I think the sheriff has indicated this will make his operations more efficient to do it this way.”

The redesign process is currently in the early phases of concept development. It’s unclear yet what the new jail will cost, but County Executive Armond Budish announced Wednesday he plans to pay for the facility with an extension of a quarter percent sales tax.

Cost considerations not only depend on the size and location of the facility, Applebaum said, but also on the number of staff and what they need. A site hasn’t been selected for the facility yet, and that process could extend the timeline.

The county has issued a request for qualifications for the new jail project. After that, it will issue a request for proposals.

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