CLEVELAND – Inmates who reside in the Cuyahoga County Jail are forced to live in unacceptable conditions in an inhumane environment where basic civil liberties are withheld, sometimes as a form of punishment by staff, according to a facility review report conducted by the U.S. Marshals Service.
The federal review was initiated at the behest of the county following six inmate deaths at the jail and multiple complaints from Cuyahoga County judges about the care inmates receive.
In wake of the damning report, U.S. Marshals announced on Wednesday afternoon they are pulling federal inmates out of the Cuyahoga County Jail downtown.
The Marshals will now house their prisoners in the Euclid Jail Annex, which is part of the county system.
U.S. Marshal Pete Elliott said the jail review team found the Cuyahoga County Jail to be “one of the worst in the country.”
The report, which was released on Wednesday morning, highlights multiple areas where the jail is considered “At-Risk.”
The report found issues with employees who are supposed to provide medical services to the inmates. During a review of medical staff files, the review team discovered one staffer had an expired CPR certification. Four other staff members had expired licenses and a licensed practical nurse didn’t have a license on file, the report said. A medical technical assistant was found to not have a diploma. The review team found two EduCare staff had partial certifications, while another licensed practical nurse and a separate nurse practitioner had board actions on their verifications, but they didn’t have documentation of the disposition, the report said.
Inside the jail, the Security Response Team, which is commonly referred to as “The Men in Black” by the inmates due to their black paramilitary uniforms, had inmates concerned about their safety. The interviews, conducted with more than 100 inmates, revealed a “strong and consistent allegation of brutality” and “cruel treatment,” at the hands of SRT members, the report said.
The review team, under watch of the U.S. Marshals, witnessed one SRT member “verbally abusing and demonstrating aggressive behavior” towards inmates, according to the report. Some SRT members who were asked to escort inmates to meet with the review team referred to the inmates openly as “snitches,” which led the review team to request the removal of up to 10 inmates for fear of retaliation by SRT members, as well as concerns about inmate safety.
The report says juvenile inmates held in the restrictive housing unit are supposed to be separated from the adults. Instead, the report says they are housed together. Additionally, juvenile inmates aren’t given proper nutrition and access to educational activities, the report said.
The report states some inmates are forced to forego showers and basic hygiene under a security lockdown protocol known as “Red Zone,” which keeps prisoners in their cells 27 hours or more because of insufficient jail staffing.
When inmates are allowed to shower in the “Red Zone,” they must do so in full view of other inmates and staff, since there are no shower curtains. According to the U.S. Marshals, jail staff flat out “refused” to install curtains that would afford inmates a sense of privacy, so they could shower without an audience. Other basic necessities such as toilet paper, toothpaste and toothbrushes are also withheld, the report said.
The inmates assigned to “No Contact Housing,” who, according to the report, do not have access to mail, phones or the general jail population are, “denied general housing privileges they are entitled.” This includes access to toilet paper, toothbrushes and toothpaste.
The report also states the jail is not Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) compliant. As part of a voluntary audit in 2015, inspectors found the jail deficient or noncompliant in 119 findings, the report states. In the years since the audit, the jail has failed to correct a single deficiency or noncompliant finding, the report states.
According to the report, inmates residing in the Restrictive House Units are given food that “lacks basic nutritional requirements.” While the food at the jail isn’t expected to be award-winning, inmates receive chow that doesn’t meet daily calorie standards, the report said.
Inmates who have medical conditions requiring special meals are overlooked and underfed. The report says that court meals at the jail aren’t properly refrigerated and the food was found set aside in areas that “reeked of dead vermin.”
The report states that the jail is actually operating above the American Correctional Associations rated capacity. Inmates are forced to sleep on a mattress on the floor due to overcrowding, the report states. Two pregnant women found during a review of the jail were seen having to share a mattress.
According to the report, the jail’s capacity is rated for 1,765 inmates, but during the inspection, the facility was found to have 2,420 inmates and detainees. Aside from overcrowding, the report says the jail is also understaffed. Currently, there are 677 members of the correctional officer custody staff, leaving 96 vacancies open, according to the report.
Inmates waiting for court in cells designed to hold two people at a time were found sharing a cell with up to 12 prisoners inside. These inmates are often left locked in and unsupervised for longer than 10 hours at a time without access to toilets or running water, according to the report.
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