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Activists Press For Cuyahoga County Jail Reforms

Advocates for reforms at the Cuyahoga County Jail are trying to keep the pressure on county leaders, seven months after a U.S. Marshals Service report called conditions at the facility “inhumane.”

A coalition of activist groups rallied outside the Justice Center on Monday morning before packing a justice reform meeting chaired by the county executive and presiding common pleas judge.

“The public needs to know, and the public should know, what is going to be done, what type of reforms will be made to the bail system and to our prison system, the lack of care, the lack of concern, the inhumane treatment of our prisoners,” said Mary Hatten, one of the protesters.

The group, known as the Coalition to Stop the Inhumanity at the Cuyahoga County Jail, is calling for mental health centers, better data collection at the jail, increased funding for reentry support services and other reforms.

At the Criminal Justice Council meeting, court and county leaders said they are studying several ways to ease overcrowding at the jail, incluidng diverting defendants to mental health and addiction treatment, expanding pretrial services and changing the way judges set bail.

Still, the jail is about 300 people over capacity, according to Prosecutor Michael O’Malley, with a current population of 2,076.

“We’re looking at ways to address those issues and get people out of the jail, out of the criminal justice system, who don’t need to be there, but do need care with other resources,” Cuyahoga County Executive Armond Budish said.

The county is asking consultants to study a possible mental health and addiction diversion program, Budish said, which would send defendants to treatment rather than jail. Consultants will consider how to set up a program in the near term and how to incorporate one into a new or refurbished Justice Center.

Meanwhile, judges are awaiting the release of a state task force report on bail bonds, Administrative and Presiding Judge John Russo said. That report will guide how Cuyahoga County judges design local changes to bond and pretrial services, he said.

The court also plans to offer defendants text message reminders about upcoming court dates, Russo said, part of an effort to reduce failures to appear.

Russo said he hopes to have “wheels moving” by October on a pretrial supervision pilot program that would allow more defendants to await trial outside the jail.

“I’m very excited to say that we’re not far off,” Russo said, “but it’s still a lot of stakeholders and input that has to be put into this before we’re done.”

Court and county leaders convened the Criminal Justice Council in June 2018 after a report recommended changes to the local bail system.

Four months later, the U.S. Marshals Service published its scathing report on jail conditions. Since then, prosecutors have filed charges against the former jail director, former warden and seven corrections officers, and a former contractor filed a whistleblower lawsuit. Last month, Gov. Mike DeWine ordered state officials to monitor the jail monthly.

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