Cuyahoga County jail releasing some inmates early to help minimize potential coronavirus outbreak

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CLEVELAND (WJW) — Dozens of inmates are getting out of jail sooner than expected to help reduce the population inside the Cuyahoga County jail. 

Judges held a rare court session to hear cases involving low-level, non-violent offenders on Saturday.

Officials say they are trying to minimize a potential outbreak inside the jail.  Saturday morning, judges, prosecutors and defense attorneys tried to speed up the judicial process, and in some cases, get defendants out from behind bars.

A total of 38 inmates were released from the Cuyahoga County jail after they appeared in court.

Kevin Dunne, who faced a judge on Friday, is relieved to be walking out.

“Everybody’s concerned, but as long as we’re trying to keep up on what’s going on, if you’re washing your hands, taking care of the sanitation stuff, we’re alright in there,” said Dunne.

“We didn’t just sit here and open the jailhouse doors and let people run out of the jail,” said Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Judge Brendan Sheehan.

Ten Cuyahoga County Common Pleas judges held hearings with prosecutors and defense attorneys working out plea deals with incarcerated inmates, charged with low-level, non-violent crimes, a process that might otherwise take weeks.

“We balanced the need to protect the public, and the safety of our inmates, and what we did is, instead of taking a timeline from here to here, we took that timeline and shrunk it to here,” said Judge Sheehan.

Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Mike O’Malley said in the event of a coronavirus outbreak, there needs to be room inside the jail to isolate inmates. He also fears state prisons may soon stop accepting inmates from county jails.

“We have to acknowledge that that is a possibility, which makes every day critical, every day between now and God forbid, the day that they stop the flow of our prisoners,” O’Malley said.

29 people who were arrested in recent days also appeared before a judge on Saturday to avoid having them wait until Monday.

“We understood here and decided to get together and try to move these cases, to try to avert tragedies within our own county jail,” said O’Malley.

“What’s going on in the courts, they’re trying to get us back out there so we can all be on the same page, we’re home, everybody can be ok together,” said Dunne.

These expedited hearings will also take place Monday through Thursday of this week.  The court hopes to release about 200 of the more than 1,800 inmates in the jail.

The Cuyahoga County sheriff has also asked local police departments to keep low level offenders in local jails and not send them downtown.

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