COLUMBUS, Ohio — Ohio Governor Mike DeWine announced Thursday that he plans to broaden the state’s jail inspection system overseeing more than 300 county jails and holding facilities, including the beleaguered Cuyahoga County Jail that has been under fire for its mistreatment of inmates at the hands of abusive guards.
According to the governor’s office, the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections Bureau of Adult Detention (ODRC) is tasked with examining its inspection process of the state’s entire jail system. The review found that as whole, the ODRC was “substantially understaffed relative to its workload, which includes annual, on-site inspections of all local jails; the examination of citizen/inmate complaints; and the investigation of critical incidents, such as in-custody deaths, use-of-force incidents, and inmate violence.”
The governor’s office stated that staffing shortages have hindered the department by limiting the frequency and scope of inspections to only look at “essential standards”—other standards are inspected on a rotating schedule. The jail inspections focus on inmate health, living conditions and the safety of inmates and jail correction officers.
According to numbers released by the governor’s office, 44 of the state’s 88 full-service jails were marked as non-compliant. This included the Cuyahoga County Jail, which, when inspected last year, was marked as non-compliant in 84 of 135 standards. Following a re-inspection this month, Cuyahoga County Jail's compliancy has dropped to 66 of 135 standards marked as non-compliant — which if not improved, may lead to legal action, according to the governor’s office.
The governor has ordered the Bureau of Adult Detention to “conduct regular compliance monitoring” at the Cuyahoga County Jail every 30 days. Nine Cuyahoga County Jail inmates have died since the beginning of 2018.
Currently there are only six employees that conduct inspections at the hundreds of jails across the state. DeWine has asked that the number of employees be raised to 15, including nursing positions to investigate medical complaints.
“Those with the Ohio Bureau of Adult Detention have worked hard with limited resources to annually inspect local jails, but their examinations haven’t been as comprehensive as I believe they should be,” said DeWine. “It’s time that this division has the tools to effectively carry out its statutory obligations.”
A part of DeWine’s plan is to enhance transparency by giving jail inspection reports to local judges and the county prosecutor. Currently, inspection reports are provided to the jail administrator, sheriff and the entity that oversees the jail—commonly a board of commissioners or city council. The plan also calls for standardized reports to be given to a grand jury for review on a quarterly basis, DeWine's office stated.
DeWine said he wants to work with lawmakers to create legislation allowing for unannounced inspections at jail facilities. Those visits “would allow inspectors to more accurately assess jail conditions” through impromptu and unscheduled surprise visits.
DeWine is asking for mandatory critical incident reporting about situations at the county jails. Currently reporting things such as in-custody deaths, inmate violence and use of force by corrections officers are optional, according to the governor’s office.
To read more of News 5’s in-depth coverage of the Cuyahoga County Jail and the issues plaguing it, click here.