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Cuyahoga County Officials Agree To Build A New Jail

The jail in Downtown Cleveland has been the target of critical reports from the federal and state governments, protests and lawsuits. Within a few years, it may be closed. [Nick Castele / ideastream]
photo of cuyahoga county jail

Cuyahoga County appears ready to move ahead with plans to build a new county jail to replace the two-jail facility at the Justice Center in Downtown Cleveland.

Building a new, low-rise jail facility outside downtown was approved 12-0 by the county’s Justice Center Executive Steering Committee Thursday, after examining several options for the future of the courthouse and jail complex.

Cuyahoga County Executive Armond Budish, who sits on the steering committee, said there are issues with the existing jail that can’t be fixed through renovations, like the lack of direct sunlight and the size of the cells.

“You can’t adapt the current jails for modern use. That’s first,” Budish said. “Second is, if you tore those down, you have to put the prisoners somewhere. If you were trying to rebuild on the exact same site, you’d have a lot of delay, you’d have a lot of additional cost. It’s clearly just not worth it.”

The committee also supported eventually moving the courthouse to another site in Downtown Cleveland. But the first priority will be finding a site for the new jail.

Consultants estimate $305 million in renovations would be needed to keep the facility running for the next 20 to 30 years. A new jail, at a site that has yet to be identified, would cost about $400 million.

Cuyahoga County Councilman Mike Gallagher, chairman of the county’s Public Safety and Justice Affairs Committee and member of the Justice Center steering committee, said the county would have moved forward with a new jail on its own even if the committee had voted against it.

“We’re under the gun here,” he said. “The federal government is looking at us. We have all these court cases. We have these deaths that we have to deal with, those will be adjudicated. We’re looking at facilities that are antiquated by 20 years in some cases. We have no choice but to move forward.”

A new jail could be open within the next three years, Gallagher said.

The new facility would initially include 1,600 beds with a capacity of 1,350 inmates and the options of expanding to 2,400 beds.

Three other options were presented to the steering committee. Rebuilding the jail elsewhere and renovating the existing courthouse got a majority of support with some dissent, as did a proposal to rebuild the courthouse and jail at one new location. Another option, renovating the existing Justice Center to keep both the jail and courthouse in their current place, received just one vote in favor and 11 against.

Even with major renovations, according to the consultants’ report, the existing Cuyahoga County Jail “will not meet contemporary and evidence-based best practices nor will the quality of environment be improved for offenders or staff.”

Cuyahoga County will now start searching for a site and an architect to design it while also finding funding to build it.

A new, two-story jail would need 15 acres of land, according to the consultants. If it’s one story, 30 acres are needed.

“That kind of acreage doesn’t really exist downtown,” said Gallagher, adding that the county will have to explore how far from the courthouse the new jail can be built.

The steering committee will continue meeting to decide on the future of the courthouse building.

Matthew Richmond is a reporter/producer focused on criminal justice issues at Ideastream Public Media.