Ohio county to close jail after mistakenly exceeding facility's capacity for years

For at least four years, Cuyahoga County jail officials mistakenly believed that their satellite jail in Euclid was able to accommodate 83 inmates instead of 32


By Courtney Astolfi
Advance Ohio Media, Cleveland

CLEVELAND, Ohio – For at least four years, Cuyahoga County jail officials mistakenly believed that their satellite jail in Euclid was able to accommodate 83 inmates when in fact the state recommends the facility hold a maximum of 32, the county reported Thursday.

That misunderstanding, first discovered in May, is one reason the administration of County Executive Armond Budish now intends to close the jail just three months after signing a year-long lease extension with the City of Euclid to use the facility.

Whether taxpayers will end up paying to lease the unused facility for nine months is unclear. In an interview with cleveland.com on Thursday, Eliza Wing, the county’s chief communications officer, declined to say whether the county will seek to break the lease.

Euclid Mayor Kirsten Holzheimer Gail told cleveland.com that the county notified the suburb about the decision on Tuesday in phone calls from Budish and Public Safety Chief Brandy Carney. Gail is perturbed by the unilateral way the decision was made.

“Ideally when you have a partnership, you have a conversation first before decisions are made,” she said. “I think they would like it to happen sooner rather than later, but we’re operating under the one-year agreement unless something else is negotiated.”

Euclid Law Director Kelley Sweeney said the county pledged in a Thursday meeting to work with Euclid on a “mutually agreeable solution for termination of use of the jail and what will happen with our (and other cities’) inmates going forward.”

Why was the mistake not discovered sooner?

That is unclear, though the Ohio Bureau of Adult Detention’s recommended capacity of 32 inmates is clearly stated on each of the facility’s annual state inspection reports dating to 2015. Each of the reports also state that the jail was exceeding the recommended maximum.

The reports are addressed to Sheriff Cliff Pinkney, whose department oversees all of the county-operated jails. Pinkney could not be reached Thursday for comment.

The county first began leasing the Euclid Jail in 2014 under the administration of Ed FitzGerald, Budish’s predecessor, as part of a move toward a regionalized county jail system that was touted as a way to house inmates more efficiently and reduce costs for municipalities.

In news articles as early as 2013, Euclid officials and Fitzgerald’s administration describe the Euclid Jail as able to house 83 inmates.

Who discovered the mix-up?

Wing said that Carney first learned of the 32-inmate maximum in May while reviewing an inspection report. In that report, inspectors noted that the jail exceed the recommended inmate capacity because two bunks had been placed in cells designed to accommodate one person.

How badly did the county exceed the recommended maximum?

During inspections on Nov. 3 and 4 of 2015 , state inspectors found the jail holding 65 inmates – more than double the recommended number.

During an inspection on Nov. 17, 2016, the population was even higher - 75 inmates.

The population was at 52 during an inspection on Dec. 12, 2017, and at 33 on Nov. 8, 2018.

How is the maximum capacity calculated?

The Bureau of Adult Detention requires specified minimums for living space, dayroom space, toilets, sinks and showers for each inmate, according to Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction spokeswoman JoEllen Smith.

Smith said the calculation also takes into account a jail’s patterns and physical layout.

Why close the jail rather than just reduce the number of inmates?

Wing said the county wants to transfer the corrections officers to fill vacancies at the understaffed main jail at the downtown Justice Center.

©2019 Advance Ohio Media, Cleveland

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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