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Cuyahoga County needs to look at recent spate of jail deaths to see if conditions, oversight can be improved: editorial

September 19, 2018

Cuyahoga County needs to look at recent spate of jail deaths to see if conditions, oversight can be improved: editorial

The recent deaths of five inmates in Cuyahoga County custody -- who were being held in either the County Jail or in the Euclid Jail, which is now run by the county – should prompt a deeper investigation, along the lines of one recently undertaken in Summit County, to examine underlying problems for possible preventive measures and programs.

Cleveland.com’s Adam Ferrise recently reported that the five deaths represent the largest number of Cuyahoga County inmate deaths in a single year since 2009.

In the three more recent deaths from late August, Gregory Fox, 36, was found hanging in his County Jail cell and died two days later at MetroHealth Hospital; Joseph Arquillo, 47, also being held in the County Jail, had a variety of drugs in his system when he died in the hospital; while Randy Kain, 46, died in Euclid Hospital after being taken from the county’s satellite jail in Euclid. Causes of death for Arquillo and Kain have not yet been determined.  

Earlier this summer, two others being held in the County Jail also died in the hospital: Esteben Parra, of acute methamphetamine intoxication, and Larry Johnson, of a hanging/suicide. 

All told, ten inmates in county custody have died since the beginning of 2009, including one in 2017, Ferrise reported. Meanwhile, jail officials have told Cuyahoga County Council hearings that a shortage of nurses has contributed to unsafe conditions at the jail.

But it could be that other issues are at work, including impacts of the opioid crisis on the jail population, possible overcrowding, or lack of adequate assessment and treatment protocols for potential mental health and drug problems among inmates.

Nationally, the death rate among inmates of local jails also is rising even as death rates for state prisoners have been stable, the federal Bureau of Jail Statistics reported late in 2016.

Included in that federal finding was that the suicide rate in local jails was 50 per 100,000 inmates, the highest since 2000, and that one-third of jail deaths occurred within the first seven days of an inmate’s admission to jail.

Those data suggest that the increase in inmate deaths is a significant problem that requires a closer look in Cuyahoga County. In Summit County, sparked by jail deaths, a county Jail Operations Advisory Commission, in findings recently highlighted by 90.3 WCPN, recommended reopening two closed gymnasiums, bolstering mental health care and expanding the library so it could help inmates find jobs and benefits.

Cuyahoga County should borrow a page from Summit County and empower a similar task force to take a deep dive into conditions at County Jail to recommend improvements. 

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