Crisis in the Cuyahoga County Jail

By Ella Van Niel

Eight inmates have died in the Cuyahoga County Jail since June of last year, and, according to the US Marshal, 55 inmates attempted suicide in the jail between November 2017 and 2018. The US Marshal conducted a review of the jail in November in 2018, and found shocking inadequacies of safety and security. The jail was understaffed and overcrowded, with up to 12 inmates placed in cells that were meant to hold no more than two people. These cells had no toilets, no running water, and no furniture. Inmates had to sleep on mattresses on the floor.

According to scene magazine, the dangerous and negligent conditions highlighted in the review are now being investigated by the US Attorney to determine whether charges can be drawn against the county. And Cuyahoga County Executive Armond Budish, who has made efforts to reduce jail spending, has hired a lawyer. His administration is also currently under investigation for corruption for separate issues.

Budish based his 2015 campaign on jail consolidation, which involved taking prisoners out of local city jails and putting them into county ones. Under this plan, the county charged each city $99 per day per inmate. And according to an article by cleveland.com, “Maggie Keenan, county director of the Office of Budget and Management administration, said at an April 3 committee meeting that more money could be brought in if the county continued to add more inmates.”

This focus on increasing revenue from jails in Cuyahoga County instead of increasing living conditions inside them is quite honestly terrifying. Jails are meant to rehabilitate and educate criminals, not use them as a way to earn money or increase profits.

As the Cuyahoga County jail system receives more and more coverage for its inhuman conditions, it is important to remember that overcrowding is not unique to Cleveland. The prison systems of 18 out of 50 states were overcrowded in 2014, according to the US Department of Justice. As politicians have become more adamant about drug sentencing and as prison systems have become increasingly privatized, incarceration rates have skyrocketed. According to the NAACP, the number of people incarcerated in America increased from roughly 500,000 to over 2.2 million between 1980 and 2015. These statistics have sobering implications for the effectiveness of America’s prison systems.

Here are the sources I used if you’re interested in reading further:

https://www.clevescene.com/media/pdf/cuyahoga_county_jail_facility_review_report_redacted_2.pdf

https://www.clevescene.com/media/pdf/cuyahoga_county_jail_facility_review_report_redacted_2.pdf

https://www.clevescene.com/media/pdf/cuyahoga_county_jail_facility_review_report_redacted_2.pdf

https://www.clevescene.com/scene-and-heard/archives/2019/01/22/armond-budish-lawyers-up-as-various-investigations-swirl-around-county-jail-and-administration

https://www.cleveland.com/opinion/index.ssf/2019/02/shame_on_the_bean-counters_run.html

https://www.cleveland.com/metro/2018/11/whats-the-story-behind-how-the-cuyahoga-county-jail-became-one-of-the-worst-in-the-nation-a-drive-for-money-a-clevelandcom-investigation-finds.html
https://www.bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/p14.pdf