CLEVELAND - There is a growing epidemic in Cleveland and it's not related to drugs. The city's juvenile crime rate has risen so drastically that a larger percentage of violent offenders are being housed at the Juvenile Detention Center than at the Cuyahoga County Jail.
According to Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Michael O'Malley, around 80 percent of the juveniles at the detention center are being held on murder, aggravated murder or other first and second-degree felony charges.
While officials did not have the percentage of violent offenders at the county jail readily available, the city's youth housed in the jail system has become statistically more violent, they said.
"The concentration of individuals with serious felonies is probably more sharp than it is even at county jail," O'Malley said. "It's much more high-level charges at the juvenile facility than the county jail."
Earlier this month, a spotlight was cast on the Juvenile Detention Center when six teens, ages 14 to 15 years old, started a riot, which caused around $200,000 in damage to the facility.
Thursday, the prosecutor's office announced charges against the six teens. The charges include aggravated riot, inciting violence, vandalism and disorderly conduct. In addition, one of the teens is charged with four counts of aggravated menacing for threatening to stab jail staff with broken glass. Three of the six teens were also charged with escape after they broke out a window and attempted to leave the facility.
According to the prosecutor's office, the charges carry a possibility of a juvenile life sentence — meaning if found guilty, the teens could be held at a state facility until their 21st birthdays.
One of the teens who participated in the riot was already being held on an aggravated murder charge in connection to the Buckeye Road shooting that claimed the life of a 12-year-old boy last year. The five other teens who participated in the riot were originally placed in the facility on various charges including aggravated robbery, felonious assault, assault, kidnapping and arson.
"A large percentage of the detainees are very violent individuals who pose a great risk to this community," O'Malley said.
Prosecutor says additional staffing needed
Officials say the incident shows the detention center is in need of some serious help.
"I think what this incident has shown is we need a different structure. They certainly need additional manpower over there to watch over these individuals," O'Malley said. "Additional staffing needs to be hired to make that facility safe for the individuals who are there as well the employees that have to work in that environment every day."
O'Malley said that the detention center, which is overseen by the Cuyahoga County Juvenile Court, is evaluating what changes to make to the facility — including new leadership. According to O'Malley, discussions about how the facility was being run were already taking place prior to the riot.
"I think people were aware there were issues festering in that facility. There had been discussions prior to this issue," O'Malley said.
While the riot may have sped up the discussions about the future of the facility and its leadership staff, no clear path has been determined. O'Malley has proposed that the Cuyahoga County Sheriff's Office assume control of the detention center but that's a discussion county officials will have down the road, he said.
"This event clearly has highlighted the fact that something needs to be done differently," O'Malley said.
In a statement sent to News 5 Thursday evening, officials at the Juvenile Detention Center said, "Management changes are currently in progress. We are also working to hire more staff in the Detention Center."