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Grievances warn staffing shortages placing lives in danger inside jail

Numbers show big jump in suicide attempts behind bars
Posted at 5:39 PM, Jan 17, 2019
and last updated 2019-01-17 18:21:03-05

CLEVELAND — Grievances obtained by 5 On Your Side Investigators warn of rising tensions, life and death situations and an atmosphere meeting the warning signs of a riot inside the Cuyahoga County jail.

The grievances were filed by corrections officers working inside the county lockup. They warn staffing shortages are placing the lives of both officers and inmates at risk.

"If that's the perception, then I have no reason to doubt that," said Dan Leffler with Ohio Patrolmen's Benevolent Association. The union represents the Cuyahoga County's 565 corrections officers. "The issue is there is simply just not enough staff to fill the number of security posts that are necessary."

November's highly-critical review by the US Marshal's team found the jail was short 96 corrections officers. The report noted that in an effort to address staff shortages and call-outs, Cuyahoga County used a "Red Zone" system where inmates are confined to their cells for up to 27 or more hours and not let out to shower, use the phone or access recreation areas.

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According to a grievance, a suicide attempt by an inmate Wednesday occurred during a Red Zone situation. Another officer wrote that he was "quadruple podded" or forced to watch over 192 inmates last weekend. In a grievance, that officer warned the situation laced inmates lives in potential danger.

Last year, eight inmates died. The Marshal's report found 55 attempted suicides in the jail. That's nearly double the 28 suicide attempts the jail reported to the state for 2015, 2016 and 2017 combined.

"The concern is, when you're watching four different pods, if every 15 minutes you do a round of each one of those pods, it's going to be at least an hour until you get back to your starting point," said Leffler. "A lot can happen in an hour."

Leffler hopes a new agreement between the union and the county to set up a labor-management committee will help streamline the hiring practice for officers and convince the county to use overtime to cover current openings.

The union hopes those changes will diffuse rising tensions in the jail that caused one jailer to write in a grievance, "inmates should not have to lose their lives because of a shortage of staff, and officers should not have to worry about becoming an inmate because they are overworked."

A county spokeswoman did not respond to a request for comment on the jail's staffing concerns.