Cleveland judge no longer sending non-violent offenders to jail after 6 inmates died in county jail

CLEVELAND --  A Cleveland judge says six inmates have died in the county jail in the past four months and now he's vowing to stop sending non-violent offenders to jail.

Cleveland Municipal Judge Michael Nelson has practiced law for over 30 years, but he said what is happening at the Cuyahoga County jail is a first.

“I was totally distressed when I realized this is the sixth death in county jail in the past four months,” said Judge Nelson.

Judge Nelson said an inmate died Tuesday, four days after being booked on cocaine possession, a fifth degree felony.

“My concern, was it someone who went through my courtroom? I couldn’t recall if I had imposed any low bonds like that but I became so concerned when I saw it was a low level felony,” said Judge Nelson.

He was so concerned, that the judge decided he will no longer send people charged with non-violent crimes to jail.

“It didn’t hit me as much as a judge, but as a citizen of Cuyahoga County. I am saying what the heck is going on that people are dying in our jail?” said Judge Nelson.

Instead, the judge says he will set personal bonds with court supervised release and supportive services.

“With this last inmate, a person like that would have gotten a personal bond with some sort of monitoring. Based on that monitoring, he may have been directed to a special program like Oriana House and gotten treatment while he waited for his case to be resolved. He would not be sitting in jail,” said Judge Nelson.

The judge has pushed bail bond reform since 2016.

He says this latest death only solidifies the need for Cleveland Municipal Court’s pretrial services department, which was implemented this week.

“This is not New York, Rikers Island. This is Cuyahoga County, Cleveland, Ohio. It should not happen,” said Judge Nelson.

Fox 8 reached out to the county for comment. Our phone calls and emails were not returned.