Judge rules jail conditions not unconstitutional

AKRON, Ohio (AP) - Saying the Constitution doesn't mandate comfortable prisons, a federal judge has ruled that conditions at the Summit County Jail don't violate prisoners' rights.
The jail is overcrowded and at any given time about 100 of the more than 500 inmates sleep on cots.
Prisoners opposing a proposal to end federal oversight of the jail contended that sleeping on cots violates constitutional protections against cruel and unusual punishment and creates a safety risk to inmates as well as employees.
U.S. District Judge Peter Economus agreed to end 30 years of federal oversight. County attorneys had argued that while the jail's capacity is regularly exceeded, no inmates' rights had been violated and no one has been harmed as a result.
The judge cautioned county officials that his ruling should not be interpreted as a stamp of approval on conditions at the jail.
Sheriff Drew Alexander echoed the overcrowding sentiment when he testified at a hearing before Economus in December. Alexander, who favors jail expansion, said the current conditions are at times so severe that "we are walking on eggshells...at any time it could blow up on us."
Alexander was unavailable for comment Wednesday. His legal counsel, attorney Christine Croce, likened Economus' ruling to a double-edged sword.
"We're glad we're not under the scrutiny of the federal court, but in the same breath, we're back at the same central issue: We're still overcrowded," she said.
Croce said the sheriff and jail officials intend to meet next week to brainstorm possible solutions to ease the crowding.
(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)