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Cuyahoga County Juvenile Court Plans New Training, Services After January Vandalism

A courtroom in the Cuyahoga County Juvenile Justice Center. [Nick Castele / ideastream]

The head judge of the Cuyahoga County juvenile court announced new training and services for staff and detained youth on Wednesday, about three months after young people vandalized a unit in the detention center.

Administrative Judge Kristin Sweeney said the court has hired 10 new detention officers and is searching for a new director.

“We’re bringing in a new director of detention to change the culture,” Sweeney said. “And these things will always, always be ongoing. Can I say that there will never be a problem in juvenile detention again? No I cannot.”

A November 2017 sheriff’s report on detention center operations identified workforce culture as one of the “root issues” at the facility.

Sweeney said she wants the new director to change that, so staff can feel “they have the techniques to bring safety and order to the place, and that there is a culture of professionalism down there.”

A court spokesperson said a staff disciplinary investigation is underway in connection with the January vandalism, but there's no resolution yet.

Applewood Centers, a local service agency, will provide mental health workers for the young people in the detention center, Sweeney said. The court will also expand programs to divert juveniles to foster care or other social service assistance rather than detention.

The moves won praise from policy groups that have been following developments at the Juvenile Justice Center.

Mike Brickner with the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio said he was “heartened” by the changes.

“It recognizes, first and foremost, that the role of the juvenile justice system is to rehabilitate these young people, and to treat them with dignity and with respect,” Brickner said.

The ACLU recommended bringing in a national expert to assess the county’s juvenile justice system, he said. At the Wednesday news conference, Sweeney said she’ll do that.

Erin Davies, the director of the Juvenile Justice Coalition, said the court was “on the right track.”

“I think this idea of the adults in the facility really taking responsibility for what’s going on there is really critically important,” Davies said. “And I think the new training, I would hope it would focus on a lot of de-escalation techniques.”

Nick Castele was a senior reporter covering politics and government for Ideastream Public Media. He worked as a reporter for Ideastream from 2012-2022.