"In some ways, the jail is worse than it's ever been,"
Chaloupka said. "Something has to give, or something's going to break.
They can't retain officers. Every time there's problems, there's a
crackdown on little things like filling out timecards properly. They
need to treat officers with fairness and respect."
Staffing decreased from a high of 705 officers in February
2020 to 639 officers this week, well below the budgeted amount of 725
Low staffing during the 2018 crisis contributed to the
discontent in the jail among both officers and inmates. A similar
pattern emerged in recent months, Chaloupka said.
Officers have become more likely to call off, causing
co-workers to be forced into working overtime to cover shifts. Those
officers, in turn, call off their next shift, and the pattern repeats.
Inmates also have become increasingly more defiant in
recent months. Chaloupka said inmates almost daily refuse to go into
lockdown at the end of the night. There have been 27 staff assaults
since the beginning of the year, including an inmate charged with sexual
imposition after he grabbed and groped a female corrections officer,
according to county and court records.
Inmate-on-inmate assaults are also trending up, with 137 in
the first four months of the year. Both numbers put the county on pace
to eclipse the total from 2020.
Cuyahoga County Public Safety Chief Robert Coury
acknowledged the difficulties in keeping staffing levels where they need
to be. Coury said the county struggled with the high turnover rate,
which he attributed to a nationwide shortage of law enforcement officers
in the wake of the murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police
officer in May 2020.
He also said it's challenging to recruit and retain new officers to work in a jail environment during the coronavirus pandemic.
"It's been increasingly difficult over the past year,"
Coury said. "Many people think it's the fact that law enforcement
suffered reputational damage as the result of the George Floyd [murder]
and other excessive force cases. And with COVID-19, many people don't
want to come into a congregate living facility."
Coury said the county conducts recruiting drives and, in
early 2021, tried to increase starting pay for new hires. The union
rejected the offer because it didn't include raises for existing
officers. Coury said the county is working on a new proposal but
declined to provide details because it's still in the planning stages.
He also said jail officials continue to track and
discipline officers who abuse sick leave, particularly on weekends.
Dozens of officers called off, for example, during the weekend of the
NFL Draft in Cleveland because they were not allowed to park downtown,
"Those who abuse their sick leave create a burden for
others," Coury said. "Disciplining people out of the jail, we're losing
officers, but ones we don't want there. We want officers there who want
to protect our inmates and their fellow officers."
Officials said the rise in jail population is concerning,
particularly heading into the summer months when police typically make
Unlike in recent years, the jail population has less to do
with unnecessarily high bonds to non-violent, low-level felons,
Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Administrative Judge Brendan
Sheehan said of the 1,144 inmates who are jailed on felony charges and
awaiting trial, 1,036 are charged with third-degree felonies or higher,
about 92 percent. The remaining nine percent have additional charges or
probation or parole violations. Those inmates remain jailed until they
can go before a judge.
Sheehan said there is reason for optimism. Trials, halted
because of the coronavirus pandemic, resumed April 29. Since then, 100
inmates have pleaded guilty and are awaiting sentencing. Eighty-two
inmates are awaiting spots to open in treatment facilities and another
27 are sentenced and waiting for transfer to prison.
Coury said officials are working to find ways to get
inmates with probation violations in front of a judge quicker. Cuyahoga
County Public Defender Cullen Sweeney said he'd like to see officials
take a harder look at some second- and third-degree felony cases to see
if those inmates can be held on house arrest with GPS trackers.
"If the population goes up much more than 1,500, then you
may have to take a harder look at some of the more difficult cases,"
Sweeney said. "A lot of times, you see a charge that's more serious, and
after pre-trials and discovery, there's an understanding that the case
is not what everyone thought it was at the beginning. In those cases,
we'd work with the judges and prosecutors to get a lower bond."