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Advocates say juvenile justice center is one of the most dangerous places in Cleveland

Published: Jun. 7, 2022 at 7:28 PM EDT
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CLEVELAND, Ohio (WOIO) - Brutal beatings, insufficient access to bathrooms and missed schooling-- all problems that lead some to believe the county is turning a blind eye to the conditions at the Cuyahoga County Juvenile Justice Center.

Meryl Johnson, a retired teacher with 40 years of teaching experience in the Cleveland Public Schools, spoke in front of the Cleveland City Council on Monday night.

She said she talked to both a former juvenile inmate and corrections officers on the inside.

“He said we are severely understaffed we don’t have the staffing to keep the kids safe. Another detention officer said a resident was so badly beaten that he was throwing up for three days straight and was finally diagnosed with concussion,” Johnson said. “If there’s a call for an alert there’s not enough staff to respond a kid can take a beating with no one to assist.”

Johnson said she learned there aren’t enough officers on given days to take inmates to the bathroom when they need to go, and that kids often remain confined to their cells, missing key development programs, because there is no other option.

“They only had 10 guards there on one day. That means they don’t go to school when they’re locked in their rooms,” she said.

You’ve likely noticed billboards popping up across the county saying the justice center is the most dangerous place in Cleveland.

The group responsible for them essentially says the “critical staffing deficit” there is worse than just a worker shortage.

The Justice for Justice Workers website says the problem stems from a years-long disagreement between the workers union and the county that puts both residents and staff in harms way.

According to the group’s website, in the first 6 months of last year the court reported an 80% increase in violence directed at staff, with nearly half resulting in injury.

However, when 19 investigates reached out to the county, a spokesperson said recent hiring efforts have filled all but four of 108 positions at the juvenile center.

The county gave us this statement:

“The Cuyahoga County Juvenile Detention Center is currently funded to employ a total of 108 detention officers and activity coordinators. As of today, we have 104 of these positions filled. However, 12 of these employees have started with the Court within the last six weeks and are currently in training and two more detention officers will start on June 21st. In addition, 12 detention officers and two managers are currently out on leave or working light duty. We have also made an additional seven offers to applicants for detention officer and are currently processing their background checks.

As a Court, we are constantly working to recruit new employees to come and work with us. Our Court has held four all-day hiring ‘paloozas’ for the Detention Center so far this year (January 24, March 21, April 4, and May 3) and we are planning for more this summer. We are also holding a court-wide Job Fair this Friday, June 10, 2022 from 1-4:30 p.m.. Please see the attached flyer for our upcoming job fair. We have been promoting this opportunity on social media and at community events. We encourage you to please share this event with your audience.”

So, that leaves us wondering, does more need to be done, or are the recent hires enough to resolve the issues at the center?

The worry of the advocates - If the troubled teens can’t learn and can’t correct behavior in custody, how can we expect them to walk the straight and narrow when they are released?

“The residents may have allegedly committed crimes, but they are still human beings and they deserve a consistent quality education in a safe healthy rehabilitative environment with some hope thrown in for good measure,” Johnson said.

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