14 Cuyahoga County Jail Inmates, 4 Staff Members Now Positive for Coronavirus

The Cuyahoga County Jail. - FlickrCC
The Cuyahoga County Jail.

Fourteen Cuyahoga County jail inmates have now tested positive for coronavirus, the county announced today.

Four staff members who worked with at least some of those inmates have also tested positive.

While the first few cases involved inmates who came from a single pod or housing unit, it's unclear what housing areas are now involved, a spokesperson told Scene this afternoon, meaning there is likely extensive community spread.

Those who have tested positive are being held in a quarantined area of the facility. The same goes for those who are displaying symptoms but who have not yet been tested.

It was just seven days ago when the first group of presumed positive inmates were identified.

The jail's population is now under 1,000 for the first time ever, after local judges and advocates worked in early March to release low-level offenders and those with limited time left to serve on their sentences. Prisons and jails are tinder boxes for the spread of the virus, as Elkton federal prison in Ohio has demonstrated.

Prior to the outbreak of the pandemic, the county jail's population was regularly around 2,000, more than double what it is now and a few hundred more than technical capacity.

This, as we've written over and over again, should be the new norm:

It shouldn't have to be spelled out that releasing low-level offenders and the elderly is the humane, moral thing to do during the current crisis. But it's also the case that the county should continue doing so in the wake of the pandemic, and not just on moral grounds. The long-term ramification of a criminal justice system less oriented toward punishment has positive economic ramifications for local government and its finances.

During conversations about a new jail facility in 2019, Cuyahoga County Councilman Dale Miller proposed a jail capacity of 1,550 inmates, estimating that the county could save more than $800 million in construction and operating costs as compared to a consultant’s model, which called for a capacity of 2,150 inmates.

“We can and should set a jail population target that is considerably lower than even the most aggressive scenario” Miller wrote in a criminally under-reported letter to his colleagues. He suggested that the target could be reached by eliminating cash bail, diverting mentally ill and addicted people to treatment facilities, establishing central booking, processing cases quicker through the courts, and releasing low-level offenders earlier in the court process.