Ohio officials to fix 'inhumane' jail following federal report
The county will also immediately start work with the U.S. Marshals to bring on the Euclid Jail into compliance with federal standards
By Courtney Astolfi
Advance Ohio Media
CLEVELAND, Ohio — In response to a scathing report that found Cuyahoga County Jail inmates are routinely deprived of basic necessities and medical and mental health care, jail administrators promised to hold the jail command staff accountable if they contributed to the conditions that the U.S. Marshals Service called “inhumane.”
Sheriff Clifford Pinkney and interim jail director George Taylor said the county will determine which people are responsible for the glaring problems in the jail.
“As the sheriff has said… we don’t have a problem disciplining people, we don’t have a problem giving them days off, we don’t have problem firing them,” Taylor said. “We don’t have a problem holding people accountable once we know who to hold accountable.”
Dealing with the command staff is but one of the ways Budish and his administration will seek to reform the jail. Budish said he is setting up a plan to make wholesale reforms, which could involve bringing in a consultant familiar with best practices for jails.
Budish also is taking three immediate steps for improvement -- having MetroHealth Systems take over all medical operations in the jail beginning in January, working with the marshals service to make sure the county’s Euclid satellite jail complies with federal regulations and having the county’s internal auditor and sheriff’s office review all policies related to inmate records.
For the immediate future, it will be up to Taylor to try and bring order to the jail. Taylor was assigned to the job on Monday, days after the former jail director, Ken Mills, abruptly resigned, after the marshals service shared preliminary results of its report with Budish.
Seven jail inmates died between June 10 and Oct. 2, prompting Budish to ask the marshals service to conduct a review of operations. In the report released Wednesday, investigators describe a facility overwhelmed by deplorable conditions.
Budish, Pinkney and Taylor laid blame on leadership inside the jail. They said the jail command staff never communicated the serious problems to the administration.
Warden Eric Ivey is named in the report as personally deciding which inmates are deprived of food as a punishment, a practice that Budish said ended this week. Ivey on Wednesday remained the warden despite that finding. Pinkney, who said he was still digesting the report Wednesday after receiving it Tuesday, said Ivey’s employment with the county “might be definitely an issue that we address.”
However, Pinkney said that food deprivation was not used as a punishment, but “more of a deterrent.” Inmates in segregation or isolation were still provided meals, but they did not receive dessert. When inspectors told the jail staff that they could not do that, the practice was stopped, Pinkney said.
Crucial to changing the culture at the jail is the ability to get corrections staff on board with whatever reforms will be implemented. A few members of the jail command staff have been promoted to newly-created associate warden positions in recent months. They will be pivotal in implementing a culture change, and if they fail to do so, “there will be consequences to pay,” Taylor said.
Budish’s administration also promised to provide weekly updates about how issues at the jail are being addressed, so the public will know what is being changed as it happens.
One notable finding from the marshals was the intimidation and fear used by the jail’s Special Response Team, who wear riot gear, use excessive force, and deprive inmates in isolation of toilet paper and basic hygiene supplies, according to the report. Pinkney said the team is depicted in the report as a “goon squad.” He said the team was originally created to handle crises such as fights, and he blamed jail leadership for allowing SRT officers’ actions to evolve into the abuse described in the report.
Most of the findings came as a surprise to both Budish and Pinkney. Budish said that when his administration is made aware of problems in the jail, they contact jail leaders. who have regularly assured them they investigate.
While the county relied heavily on annual state inspections that failed to find serious issues in the jail other than severe crowding of inmates, Budish and Pinkney said the county does conduct investigations when his administration learns of problems the state didn’t identify.
“Typically what happens is, let’s say someone comes in about not getting toilet paper. (The complaint) would usually go to the corporal, to the sergeant, and then up to the warden and then director. At that point, it’s resolved. If it gets past them, then there’s an investigation conducted,” Pinkney said. If the issue is still not resolved at that point, then inmates or staff members can file a grievance.
In most cases, complaints never made it to Pinkney or Budish, meaning Mills did not pass those concerns on to his bosses, Pinkney said. That led to Budish and Pinkney remaining in the dark about many of the concerns raised, they said.
Budish said some of the problems in the jail related to inmates’ healthcare arose from “a very awkward and somewhat dysfunctional division of responsibility” of medical care. Currently, MetroHealth provides doctors and support staff, while the county provides nurses. Beginning in early 2019, Cuyahoga County will partner with MetroHealth to take over all medical operations inside the jail, including the nursing.
The county will also immediately start work with the U.S. Marshals to bring on the Euclid Jail into compliance with federal standards. The marshals pay the county $1.3 million a year to house 60 federal inmates in the county’s jails.
The county’s internal auditor will work with the sheriff’s office to review all policies and procedures related to inmate records and other important documentation. The marshals said files in the jail were unorganized and several important policies about inmate care were not documented.