I-Team: Report on Cuyahoga County Jail shows significant problems

CLEVELAND- The FOX 8 I-Team is learning more about a report released to Cuyahoga County leaders on the troubled Cuyahoga County Jail after a review of operations there by US Marshals.

County officials familiar with the report describe it as “serious”.

Among the main areas of concerns cited: overall conditions, leadership, and medical care.

6 inmates have died there in recent months. The jail has been severely overcrowded, many concerns have been raised about medical care there and more.

The I-Team requested a copy of the report, which you can see, below:

SEE THE FULL REPORT HERE

It shows many areas marginal or unsatisfactory.

The I-Team recently showed you exclusive pictures from inside the Cuyahoga County Jail, and we have explosive new claims from an inmate who testified about conditions before a Common Pleas Court judge.

The pictures show one section of the jail which had been previously used as a holding area for prisoners going to court.

But one inmate told a judge, he spent a week there. A transcript shows he testified, “I ate food with my hands.

There was no running water. We were not allowed to shower.

"I had bites all over from the bedbugs.” He had told the judge he’s a military veteran, and he added, “I’ve been in prisons overseas. I mean, it was something on a third world country.”

That inmate also told the court he saw inmates doing drugs that had been smuggled in. And, he also spoke up when asked about talk of an escape or hostage. He said, “Yeah. …they were opening up panels up on top of the ceiling…and they were crawling up in there.”

The jail has been swarming lately with federal agencies and state inspectors. Concern over conditions has become an uproar.

Just last week, the man in charge of the jail resigned.

The claims about the jail made in court began with a letter from an inmate to the judge on his case. She held a hearing to get it all on the record under oath. The transcript was then forwarded on to make sure more eyes in the justice system are taking a hard look inside the lock up.

Meantime, we met a mother tearing up talking about conditions while leaving the jail after visiting her son. She said, "It's very shivering as a mother. As a parent. There's basic civil rights. Everybody deserves that.”

You should know, the inmate speaking out to his judge is facing a series of felony charges.

Realistically, nobody expects jail to be heaven.

But now, a growing cry to do better than this.

The OH Dept of Corrections also has not yet released a report on the state’s most recent inspection.

Meantime, the sheriff has said he wants an independent firm hired to review the jail operations, too.

County Executive Armond Budish, Sheriff Clifford Pinckney and Interim Jails Director George Taylor released the following statement regarding the U.S. Marshal’s Quality Assurance Review of the Cuyahoga County Correctional Center:

Armond Budish, County Executive:

I want to thank U.S. Marshal Pete Elliott for assembling a tremendously talented and experienced team of jail experts, and I want to thank the U.S. Marshals’ team for a thorough and detailed evaluation and report.

It is important to put this in context. The County Jail is inspected each year by the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections. The County relies on the state to identify issues in our jails through this annual audit process. Each year the County Jail has been determined to be in compliance with state standards.

In fact, in the most recent evaluation, issued this past March, the state jail inspection team stated their “congratulations on achieving compliance with 100% of the essential and at least 90% of the important standards,” and “sincere congratulations on achieving compliance.”

Moreover, a member of the local U.S. Marshal’s Office conducted an inspection this year because the Marshals are housing prisoners in the county jail and based on that inspection the Marshals determined to continue to place their prisoners in the County jail.

Despite these positive evaluations, six inmates died in the jail this year. This is not tolerable, and it prompted me to contact U.S. Marshal Pete Elliot to ask him if he would have a team of experts independently evaluate the county jail. The Marshals are known to rigorously apply the highest federal standards of safety for prisoners and staff, and that’s what I wanted. I want to measure our jail against the highest standards and to make every effort to bring our jail up to meet these high safety standards.

The Marshals’ report indicates the county jail is NOT meeting those high standards today. In fact, far from it. This must change, and it will change.

It’s my plan to develop and implement a comprehensive plan to improve safety in the jail, addressing the concerns detailed in the report. We have already made some of the recommended changes. So, for example, the report states that in the Restrictive Housing Unit, food has been used as a punishment. This has stopped.

And I can announce three major steps we are taking right now.

First, the health care of inmates has been a topic of concern. Some of the problems arose from a very awkward and somewhat dysfunctional division of responsibility, with the County hiring the nurses and Metro handling other medical services. Beginning in the first quarter of this year, Metro has agreed to take over the entire medical and nursing responsibilities.

Second, we are immediately working with the Marshals to prepare the Euclid jail to comply with the high federal standards set out in the Marshals’ report.

Third, I have asked our internal auditor to take a look at all policies and procedures, at inmate records management and at other crucial documentation. Our Department of Innovation and Performance and Sheriff will work alongside the auditor to make sure we have the proper policies and procedures in place.

Some of the concerns in the Marshals’ report can be quickly cured, like the need to practice fire drills. Other issues will take longer to address. We will closely review the Marshal’s report and prepare a comprehensive plan to ensure the safety of prisoners and staff in the jails.

Cliff Pinkney, Sheriff:

I want to reiterate that the safety of our staff and of our inmates is extremely important.

I want to thank the U.S. Marshall’s office for agreeing to audit our jails and for providing this report to us.

In some cases, as they raised issues, we were able to immediately address those. We are now going through every single one of the report findings and making sure that we understand and respond to each one.

The bottom line is this – we all want our jails to be safe and secure and I will make sure that they are.

George Taylor, Interim Jails Director:

My role as interim director of the jails is to make sure that command staff and CO’s are following all the protocols and policies that we have laid out.

As most of you know, I am new to this position, but I have deep experience in the law enforcement and corrections areas.
Job number one for me is to address the concerns in this report. Just like the Sheriff and the County Executive I want to make sure that our jails are safe and secure.

My plan is to work for the Sheriff and the County Executive to run down these issues and to come back with a plan to address them.

I will be prioritizing areas in two ways – the first, what conditions might exist that could be unsafe either for our staff or for our inmates, and second, what is easily addressed; what can we get to immediately?

I commit to you that I and the Sheriff will be back with a report on changes and improvements.