Protesters denounce Cleveland jail conditions
Demonstrators against conditions in the county jail march around the Justice Center in Cleveland. Nick Castele /

CLEVELAND — Protests against conditions in the Cuyahoga County jail continued Jan. 8 as nearly 100 picketed the facility located in the Justice Center in downtown Cleveland.

Since last June eight people have died and 55 attempted suicide while in custody. After inspecting the jail in November the U.S. Marshalls Service reported that conditions were “inhumane,” including severe overcrowding, substandard food and medical services, arbitrary and cruel punishment, and abuse of prisoners sent there by various municipal courts while awaiting trial, but unable to post bail. The report found that, while having a rated capacity of 1,765 inmates, the jail housed 2,420 forcing many to share beds or sleep on the floor.

Devin Climaco, a former inmate and U.S. Air Force veteran, told the rally he was in a cell with 40 people with two assigned to each available bunk. He said guards would not use prisoners’ names but called them “jumpsuit” or used their assigned numbers.

Other speakers denounced the authorities responsible for the jail including County Executive Armond Budish and the members of the County Council.

A speaker from the Ohio Student Association said funds existed to alleviate the conditions.

Molly Nagin, speaking on behalf of the Young Communist League and the Tamir Rice Foundation said the county had an economic incentive to maintain overcrowding and inferior services since it receives $100 a night from each municipality for each prisoner sent there. Surplus money now goes into the County’s General Fund, which can then be accessed by developers, contractors and other business interests who contribute to the campaigns of elected officials, she said.

Drawing loud cheers, Nagin said that, just as the Cleveland Housing Court has ordered slum landlords to live for a time in the houses they rent to others, Budish and the members of the County Council should be required to spend a week in the jail.

She also praised Cleveland Municipal Judge Michael Nelson for announcing he would no longer order anyone to the jail until conditions there improved. Nelson has also demanded bail reform to reduce overcrowding and allow people accused of non-violent offenses such as drug possession to be free pending trial.

Yvonka Hall, representing the Cuyahoga County Progressive Caucus, deplored the fact that Cleveland, with world-renowned sports teams and medical centers, permits such conditions in the jail.

A delegation representing the Coalition to Stop the Inhumanity at the Cuyahoga County Jail entered the Justice Center to deliver a list of reforms it seeks to presiding County Judge John Russo and County Sheriff Clifford Pinkney. The protesters then marched around the center carrying placards and chanting “No Justice, No Peace!”

Two days after the protest, the County announced that MetroHealth Medical Center would take control over health care at the jail to increase staffing and improve services.

It also announced it had hired a consultant to consider whether the jail should be renovated or replaced by a larger facility. In a statement distributed at the rally, the Ohio Communist Party said this would not address the problem, but only give it a bigger arena. The current jail was built in the 1970’s after an inmate riot caused by overcrowding in a previous facility built in 1921.


Special to People’s World
Special to People’s World

People’s World is a voice for progressive change and socialism in the United States. It provides news and analysis of, by, and for the labor and democratic movements to our readers across the country and around the world. People’s World traces its lineage to the Daily Worker newspaper, founded by communists, socialists, union members, and other activists in Chicago in 1924.