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CMBA Hot Talk: Conversation on Conditions at Cuyahoga County Jail

Sarajean Petite  /  Friday, December 21, 2018  /  Categories: legal news  /  Rate this article:
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The Cleveland Metropolitan Bar Association has a series of Hot Talks in order to "[create] opportunities for the open, civil exchange of ideas and viewpoints across a vast array of subjects." These are broadcast live on the CMBA Facebook Page, and there is an archive on YouTube.

According to Cleveland.com, "U.S. Marshals released a report Wednesday [Nov. 14] that detail[ed] inhumane conditions and civil rights issues within the Cuyahoga County Jail" (see article for link to the report). On December 5, CMBA issued a statement on the conditions at the jail.

On December 11, 2018, the topic of discussion was the conditions inside the Cuyahoga County jail. The speakers were Judge John J. Russo, Administrative and Presiding Judge, Cuyahoga Court of Common Pleas, and Brandy Carney, Chief at Cuyahoga County Public Safety & Justice.  Matthew Gurbach, Partner at Benesch, Friedlander, Coplan & Arnoff, moderated.

Judge Russo explained that the jail building is under control of the County Executive, and he mentioned several times that he found out about the problem in Cleveland.com. He said that each grand jury writes a report about the state of the jail. The Clerk of Court gets the report, and the Ohio Supreme Court also sees it.  He does receive letters from inmates, and responds to each one by ordering an investigation into the issue, writing back to the inmate, or both. He had been concerned about inmates’ mental health -- some were not receiving their medication, and about lawyers having less access to their clients because the staffing situation made it necessary to stop bringing inmates out of the jail to meet with their lawyers.

Ms. Carney said that her department identified things to which her department could respond quickly, and corrected them. Public Works did a complete cleaning of the kitchen, an exterminator came to the jail, shower curtains were put up in every stall, and arrangements were made for juvenile inmates to have high school education. They are bringing in external consultants, such as the American Correctional Association, for guidance on dealing with systemic problems.  

Judge Russo said that a jail list is being distributed to county judges so they know who is in jail and what each inmate’s status is. He and Ms. Carney spoke of measures to keep the Cuyahoga County Jail  jail population down, such as house arrest, mental health diversion facilities, and overflow facilities in Bedford and Euclid. Judge Russo mentioned that ankle bracelets were effective, but there was a waiting list for them because it takes manpower to monitor them.

Judge Russo said that collaboration was important, and the public defender, the prosecutor, the sheriff, the local police should be at a table with the County Executive, but absent a court order, the judiciary lacked the authority to initiate this discussion.  He believes that change needs to come from within the jail system, not from the legislature.

Video of this conversation is available at:  https://www.facebook.com/CleMetroBar/videos/502536096900507/

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