Security lapse puts all at risk inside Cleve. Detention Center - Cleveland 19 News Cleveland, OH

Security lapse puts all at risk inside Cleveland Juvenile Detention Center

The PDA's the guards use. (Source: WOIO) The PDA's the guards use. (Source: WOIO)
Surveillance video from the center. (Source: Cuyahoga County Juvenile Court System) Surveillance video from the center. (Source: Cuyahoga County Juvenile Court System)
Community activist Art McKoy. (Source: WOIO) Community activist Art McKoy. (Source: WOIO)

A 19 Action News investigation of violence inside the Juvenile Detention Center, pointed out that it is a dangerous place to work.  

The guards first line of defense at the facility is a PDA, a personal detention assistant.  It's a radio about as big as a cell phone and on Thursday, June 19, the system went out. The device is about the size of a palm and is always in the hands of officers.  

When violence breaks out, the staff is always outnumbered.  Their safety depends on calling in back up.

The company that provides the service is Black Creek.  They installed the entire detention management system, including monitoring and surveillance cameras.  

Security at the detention center is very necessary given an increasingly violent juvenile population.  

Members of the Heartless Felons Gang were removed after our stories aired, but that was just a start toward better staff safety.

"Some of these people have committed murders," says Duane Deskins, Chief Juvenile Prosecutor.

Black Creek's contract with Cuyahoga County lapsed, and everything went black Thursday.  There were no PDAs, no surveillance, nothing.  

It left officers on their own and in an emergency it would have delayed help arriving.  

Many ask, "How could the county let the service lapse?"

Community Activist Art McCoy says it's because many Cuyahoga County officials have their priorities all wrong.  He wonders who the real heartless felons are.

"Is it the juvenile gangs that they say have taken over the Juvenile Justice Center or is it the bureaucrats," says McKoy.

On Friday, June 20, three community organizations, Black on Black Crime, Survivors/Victims of Tragedy, and Black Men's Army, joined forces to rally outside the Cuyahoga County Juvenile Detention Center.

Organizers of the event have called out Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Timothy McGinty for what they refer to as the "poor" planning of the detention center.

This comes just one week after the 43 members of a gang known as the Heartless Felons were arrested on 437 counts for creating havoc within the walls of the detention center.

19 Action News recently acquired video of many of the gang's attacks on other inmates and staff.

The rallying group says although the arrests mean good news, the facility has been failing the troubled children, and not rehabilitating them as their mission statement says.

Frustrated organizers accuse city leaders of wasting money on judges' chambers and unnecessary amenities while neglecting to invest the funds on appropriate services for the youth such as hiring adequate staff to handle the increased number of residents and paying for educational, vocational, and rehabilitation programs.

The group agrees that violent thugs and gang members should be punished accordingly, but say to solely blame the youth for the shortcomings of the facility is inaccurate and "heartless".  The group says there was never an adequate organizational plan to house, treat and educate an increased population.

Since the new facility opened in Cleveland almost three years ago at 9300 Quincy Ave., there have been an alarming number of attacks and destruction of property reported.

Judge Kristin Sweeney and retired guard Ed Reynolds say that fight scenes at the center have become commonplace.  At times it is near impossible for the guards to get a large fight under control quickly due to being outnumbered.  Guards also have to be careful how they deal with disciplining the youth for fear of being reprimanded or even terminated.  One female guard was so severely hurt that she had to be hospitalized and placed on injury leave for more than a year.

"We went from one extreme to another and we have to find some kind of medium there that works for everybody.  Keeps the kids safe but is not abusive," said Reynolds. "I mean, it's a really hard situation to figure out how to balance the kids and the staff's needs," says Reynolds.

"We will continue to pursue similar legal steps against other older, violent prisoners and those who attack other children or staff members," says Timothy McGinty. "In addition, we are working with Cuyahoga County Juvenile Court Administrative Judge Kristin W. Sweeney to provide additional training for staff and to monitor violence within the detention center. We also join with the court in urging County Council to add security personnel at the Juvenile Justice Center. "

In addition to the brutal assaults, damage to sprinkler systems, windows and televisions have totaled tens of thousands of dollars.

Many affected by the chaos inside the juvenile detention center are hoping for an effective solution that protects staff, residents and property.

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