Public defender: Limitations on attorney access for Ohio jail inmates a constitutional violation
Short visiting hours, understaffing cited as contributing factors; jail staff is working to alleviate problem
The Plain Dealer
CLEVELAND, Ohio — Cuyahoga County Public Defender Mark Stanton says inmates at the Cuyahoga County jail are denied proper access to their attorneys.
Attorney visiting hours are limited to six hours on weekdays, and three and a half “hit and miss” hours on Saturday mornings, with no access on evenings, Stanton told County Council on Monday.
“This is a constitutional violation that occurs daily in this county,” Stanton said, adding that other counties offer inmates greater access to attorney visits, particularly during evening hours.
Contacted for comment about this story, Public Safety Chief Brandy Carney said she and Chief of Staff Bill Mason recently submitted recommendations that are aimed at increasing inmate access to attorneys. The jail is still working to determine how to implement those recommendations, Carney said.
Stanton’s comments prompted questions from several council members during a hearing on Monday, including Sunny Simon, who said she was “appalled” and that the county needs to fix the issue immediately.
The comments also prompted Public Safety Committee Chair Michael Gallagher to announce that his committee would discuss inmates’ access to their attorneys during a previously-scheduled meeting on Tuesday afternoon.
The public defender is hired by the county to represent defendants who are too poor to afford their own counsel.
Stanton said attorney visitation doesn’t have to be available 24 hours. But he said it should be provided seven days a week with some hours in the evening because many attorneys are in court during current visitation hours. He said the lack of attorney access is caused by problems at the jail, including inadequate physical space and training for corrections officers.
Contacted by cleveland.com for this story, president of the Cleveland Metropolitan Bar Association Ian Friedman also said inmates often do not have sufficient access to their attorneys. Restricted visiting hours, a lack of privacy, over-booked visitation scheduling and time limitations for in-person visits contribute to the problem, Friedman said.
“If the facilities and protocols do not dramatically change, the county will most certainly remain complicit in the denial of inmates’ fundamental rights,” Friedman said.
Ohio’s administrative code allows attorney visitation during regular visiting hours, or with one-day advance notice on evenings or weekends. The code also allows for attorneys already at the jail to request extra time with their clients beyond visiting hours and “such requests shall be liberally granted when the attorney can show sufficient reason why such visits are necessary.”