Will reduced crowding at Cuyahoga County Jail continue after the coronavirus crisis?

Updated: Apr. 23, 2020 at 7:22 PM EDT
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CLEVELAND, Ohio (WOIO) - A longtime, problematic county jail is changing the way it operates amid the coronavirus outbreak, and some are hoping it’s not business as usual when the crisis is over.

Fears of a COVID-19 outbreak accomplished in days what years of complaints, protests and lawsuits about conditions and overcrowding at the Cuyahoga County Jail couldn’t do--change the system, at least temporarily.

“On March 10, our jail population was at 1,978,” said Cuyahoga County Administrative Judge Brendan Sheehan. “We reduced the jail population to under 1,000, which is amazing. It was because of hard work, everyone getting together and focusing on our jail population that we were able to reduce that size.”

As the coronavirus surges through some Ohio prisons, fewer inmates at the Cuyahoga County Jail have helped keep the rate of infection low, with 30 inmates and seven corrections officers testing positive.

“They are able to quarantine and segregate people so they don’t get everyone else in the jail sick,” said Judge Sheehan.

Adam Chaloupka, with the Ohio Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association--which represents the corrections officers, says while the union is still pushing for hazard pay for its members, the reduction of inmates along with additional measures, such as health screenings, appear to be working.

“It seems to be holding steady and working for now, which is a good thing,” said Chaloupka

Jocelyn Rosnick, policy director with ACLU Ohio, says the steps taken by Cuyahoga County officials during the crisis should be implemented when the pandemic is over.

“The actions being taken right now during the coronavirus pandemic can and should form long lasting policy change that will be around once this pandemic is over and done with,” said Rosnick.

Judge Sheehan is willing to explore changes on a permanent basis at a later date. “I can’t wait for the end of all of this, when we can look back and say we did some good things here, how can we implement that system to maintain these numbers and make sure this jail is not overcrowded, as it has been over the last years,” said Judge Sheehan.

If you are a current inmate with a concern about conditions, you can report them to ACLU of Ohio via email at covid19@acluohio.org

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