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National Guard to work in jail as COVID-19 cases skyrocket

More than one-in-five inmates test positive
County jail
Posted at 5:12 PM, Dec 14, 2020
and last updated 2020-12-14 19:25:59-05

CLEVELAND — As coronavirus cases skyrocket inside the Cuyahoga County jail, county leaders announced Monday the Ohio National Guard will begin working inside the jail later this week.

The jail has seen cases more than quadrupled in the last week to 282 COVID-19 cases among inmates.

"We've had an explosion countywide, statewide, nationally COVID infections and the jail hasn't escaped," said Cuyahoga County Executive Armond Budish.

Budish said the case count will likely rise with another 400 inmates scheduled to be tested in the next couple of days.

But it's not just inmates affected by the virus. The union representing county corrections officers said Monday that 69 jailers were off work because of COVID-19, which is more than 10% of the jail's corrections officers.

"The jail staffing has basically gotten to where it was 18 months ago, at the peak of the county jail crisis of 2018-2019," said Adam Chaloupka, with the Ohio Patrolmen's Benevolent Association.

To try and fill the gap, the county said up to 50 national guardsmen and state prison workers will begin working inside the jail Wednesday.

It comes as the county works to lower the jail's population in an effort to give inmates more room to distance, isolate, and quarantine in hopes of slowing the spread.

"The fewer prisoners inside the jail, the easier it is to protect them," said Budish.

Beginning Monday, the sheriff's department said it would no longer house inmates charged with non-violent misdemeanors or people jailed for parole violations.

The county has also asked the Ohio Supreme Court to order state prison officials to pick-up inmates who have been sentenced to prison time.

But the county said that will likely amount to fewer than 200 of the jail's current 1,351 inmates.

With jury trials now suspended because of the pandemic, Budish said there is a limit to how low the jail population can safely go.

"We can't let people out who are violent," said Budish, "we can't endanger the community by letting people out."

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