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Cuyahoga County Jail Facing Increased Intake As Courts Resume Cases

The Cuyahoga County jail is seeing a rise in intake after months of trying to keep the inmate population down during the coronavirus pandemic.

The jail has added an average of 44 people per day so far in July, according to jail administrator Rhonda Gibson, compared to roughly 36 per day in June.

“The courts are doing a slow rollout, trying to get back to some sort of normalcy in their operations, so that doesn’t surprise me,” Gibson said.

That’s mostly balanced out by the release rate, she said, which is about 39 to 40 people per day for July. The total inmate population is also up this month, she said, at an averaging just under 1,200. In April, the jail had an average of 1,015 inmates.

Local courts put off bail arraignments and probation violations during the pandemic, said County Chief of Public Safety Robert Coury, but those cases need to move through the system eventually.

“They’re not just putting the pedal to the metal on having cases,” Coury said. “They’re doing it sensitively with inmate safety key in their mind.”

The courts have tried to keep down the number of inmates to reduce the potential for spread of the virus in the congregate setting. The jail continues to review cases to determine who can be released from custody, Coury said.

Cuyahoga County council members are concerned about inmates who tested positive for the coronavirus possibly spreading it after leaving the jail. The county should look into ways to keep track of recently released inmates in order to prevent outbreaks, Councilmember Yvonne Conwell said.

Jail officials are working with MetroHealth System to notify local health departments when an inmate who tested positive has been released, Gibson said, and provide the departments with contact information.

“We can offer, or MetroHealth could offer a location where the inmate could go,” Gibson said. “But that doesn’t mean they have to go there. If the inmate wishes to be released to the street, that’s their prerogative.”

The jail provides masks and other PPE on release, Coury said, and can offer ways to get to a safe location without taking public transit, but there are no requirements to follow the advice.

“Our legal authority to control where he goes and what he does after that, beyond what you might see in public, if he fails to wear a mask, ends at that point,” Coury said.

Those who leave the jail and go to a county-affiliated homeless shelter may need to provide information on where they came from and whether they’ve tested positive, said Councilmember Michael Gallagher, which provides one possible way to trace the virus, if necessary.

“If they’ve done their time and they’ve paid their price, there’s nothing further we can do,” Gallagher said.

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