Cuyahoga County Juvenile Court Argues For More Staff

Cuyahoga County Juvenile Court is asking for additional funding for detention officer and a nurse.
Cuyahoga County Juvenile Court is asking for additional funding for detention officer and a nurse. [Nick Castele / ideastream]
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Cuyahoga County Juvenile Court officials say hiring a psychiatric nurse and more officers will help the court better care for youth in the detention center.

Staff made their case for additional $3.4 million Monday at a finance committee meeting. Council must approve a new two-year county budget by next month.

The requested 10 additional detention officers would cost the court $630,000 more than initially requested by County Executive Armond Budish. A psychiatric nurse would cost an additional $125,000 as part of an expanded medical services contract with University Hospitals.

“What we’d like to do is hire the right people, the people that can make a difference in that youth by changing the trajectory,” court legal counsel Mark Majer told council. “And what that requires is a one-on-one relationship, if you will.”

Budish had already submitted his budget proposal by the time the court requested more money, Budget Director Maggie Keenan said. The court had asked for more time to prepare a proposal, Neff said.

Court staff argued that Cuyahoga County’s youth-to-staff ratio should be 8 to 1, in line with federal recommendations, rather than the state-mandated 12-to-1 ratio.

Hiring more staff will help the court keep kids busy with programs and activities, Court Administrator Tess Neff said.

“When you have a lower child-to-staff ratio, it prevents extended room confinement,” Neff said. “I don’t need to tell you the psychological problems that that creates.”

Youth who enter detention face significant difficulties in their lives, staff said. Many have not seen a doctor or dentist in years or need psychological services. Between 50 and 70 percent of detention center residents receive psychotropic medication, according to the court’s handout.

Court officials shared letters of support for more staffing from Case Western Reserve University’s Schubert Center for Child Studies and the Center for Children’s Law and Policy, a think tank based in Washington, D.C.

Councilman Dale Miller, the chair of the finance committee, said he wanted to hear Budish’s opinion on the proposal before council’s Nov. 12 meeting.

Administrative Judge Kristin Sweeney announced steps to “change the culture” of the detention center in 2018 after young people vandalized a unit that January. The county later settled a lawsuit alleging that two guards facilitated “fight nights” among the youth. In July 2019, the superintendent of the juvenile detention center quit just hours into his first day.

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