Cuyahoga County Jail union makes plea to officials: Crowded pods, safety issues, retaliation must stop

October 5, 2018

Cuyahoga County Jail union makes plea to officials: Crowded pods, safety issues, retaliation must stop

CLEVELAND, Ohio — The union that represents Cuyahoga County corrections officers made a plea Thursday for jail officials to address issues that have led to what it considers unsafe conditions that jeopardize the safety of officers and inmates housed in the county jail.

The Ohio Patrolman’s Benevolent Association director filed the grievance late Thursday, two days after another Cuyahoga County inmate died, marking the sixth inmate death in less than four months.

“Overcrowding, officer assaults and recent deaths in our jail and consistent retaliation that has been targeted against those officers has got to stop,” the grievance, authored by union director Frank Hocker, says. “The county management needs to stop hiding behind politics and fix this.”

The FBI has conducted interviews with former employees regarding civil rights violations at the jail, according to sources. Cleveland Municipal Judge Michael Nelson said Wednesday that he no longer feels comfortable sending inmates to the jail unless they’re the among the most serious offenders. The following day, Cuyahoga County Sheriff Clifford Pinkney said he would ask County Council to approve money for an independent expert to investigate the jail.

Cuyahoga County spokeswoman Eliza Wing did not return a message seeking comment. 

The union has complained for months about crowded, understaffed inmate pods, failing safety equipment and improper medical screening of inmates, according to prior grievances filed by the union. The union also complained of finding bed bugs and rodents in jail cells.

The union’s grievances say pods, which are collections of cells that share a common area, are so packed that inmates are forced to sleep on cots on the floor. The jail is about 500 inmates over capacity, sometimes more depending on the day.

Current and former jail employees also have complained for months that because of the crowding, inmates are locked down in what the jail calls “red-zoning,” meaning they’re forced to stay in their already packed pods, for up to 20 hours per day.

In some pods, the inmates have no access to running water, according to the grievances.

The Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections, which inspects local jails to make sure they’re in compliance with state regulation, conducted a surprise inspection in June after cleveland.com reported low-staffing levels in the jail’s medical unit.

The inspector found that the jail was severely over capacity and that in some cases the jail failed to conduct medical assessments of inmates within 14 days of booking, which is required by law.

The medical director at the time, Kelly Blevins, who has since resigned, told the state inspectors that medical emergencies dramatically spiked since the county jail began housing fresh arrests from the Cleveland Police Department.

The state inspector reviewed 30 inmate records and found no example of a medical emergency that the jail was unable to handle and that the jail’s staffing plan was in compliance with Ohio’s jail standards. The inspector did note in the report that of the 30 medical files, six showed that no one conducted the required medical screenings.

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