By Kaitlin Durbin

CLEVELAND, Ohio — Cuyahoga County has yet to decide what to do with its aging jail, but two of the entities overseeing its operations recently shared their wish lists for a new and improved facility.

Jail Administrator Ronda Gibson and the County Department of Public Works Facilities Management Team, which performs maintenance and oversees major repairs at the correctional facility, have long advocated the construction of a new jail in outside the city center, which they believe will improve conditions for inmates and staff.

Cuyahoga County <a class=Jail officials are advocating for a new jail, located outside of downtown Cleveland, to meet state standards of care and improve working conditions for staff.”/>

Cuyahoga County Jail officials are advocating for a new jail, located outside of downtown Cleveland, to meet state standards of care and improve working conditions for staff. (David Petkiewicz /

The current prison is too small and too old to accommodate the kinds of changes they believe are needed not only to address the prison’s physical deficiencies – small cells, overcrowding, restricted supervision, technological barriers and deteriorating infrastructure and mechanical systems – but also quality Life improvements – more natural light, fresh air, more leisure and better organization to allow prisoners better access to services.

They visited half a dozen newly built prisons across the United States to see how these facilities supported progressive correctional practices and what innovations could be emulated at Cuyahoga. The new Franklin County Jail, which opened earlier this month, has established itself as a model to follow.

The two-story prison, located approximately 15 minutes from downtown Columbus, features communal living quarters with built-in medical, video visitation and programming rooms, learned during a recent tour. There are TVs, windows, recreation areas, dedicated mental health wings, and bay windows that let in fresh air on sunny days.

Cuyahoga wants those things too, and more. asked Gibson and public works officials for examples of features they like about the Franklin County Jail that they would like to see here. The county initially declined to provide the lists, but later released them in response to a request for documents.

On Gibson’s 11-point wish list was a large exit port, the area where detainees are brought after arrest, which could accommodate buses, medical vehicles and several police cars at the same time. It would also have space for law enforcement to complete pre-admission paperwork and house a court clerk’s office, where eligible inmates could post bail without ever being incarcerated in the jail.

In living units, she wants netting on upper floors to prevent falls or jumps, garage doors that open to let in fresh air, and built-in recreation areas that are more accessible to inmates. She also touted the possibility of having cells for four men which she compared to “mini dormitories” and “time out” spaces to temporarily hold inmates “either for periods of chilling or waiting for a escort to another unit”.

For staff, she wants a central control room with state-of-the-art technology that offers more flexibility for security and monitoring. And she wants a larger call and training room where more than 100 employees could receive instructions at the same time, space for employee lockers and a lunch room where employees can eat, store food and go out. for a break.

Public Works employees drafted a similar list, but with more emphasis on improving infrastructure.

Currently, the site around the Cuyahoga County Jail is congested, with support services, law enforcement, and other prison operations all passing through “restrictive” docks or driveways. exit port which create a logistical nightmare, are poorly located and can only accommodate certain sizes of Vehicles. At the single-lane exit port, for example, vehicles are constantly hitting overhead doors and a recent inspection found deteriorating concrete, the department said.

By comparison, the Franklin site has space for multiple vehicles of all sizes, multiple loading docks to bring supplies closer to where they need to go, and separate traffic lanes just for prison operations.

The department also envied a design feature in Franklin Jail that allows maintenance workers to access utilities and make repairs from outside living units or individual cells. This saves inmates from having to be locked up or moved around while labor is in progress, a logistical problem that Cuyahoga staff say they regularly struggle to navigate.

A two-story horizontal prison would also make life easier, they said, noting that Cuyahoga Prison “critically” depends on elevators to transport goods, services and inmates between its two buildings, each 9 to 10 floors and only connected via a skybridge on one floor. These elevators have “frequent service outages” that disrupt operations, the department said.

One area where Cuyahoga is already implementing best practices is central booking.

Cuyahoga began to build the $3 million central reservation area, modeled after one in Franklin County last year in hopes of speeding up the court process by connecting suspects more quickly to attorneys and allowing prosecutors to review charges more quickly. It is also expected to reduce the prison population as early pre-trial assessments allow eligible inmates to be released on bail.

The space recently opened and is expected to be fully operational by August 1, but even so it still appears to be falling short of expectations.

“Central Reservation in Frankin County is what we have been striving to achieve, but were unable to due to reservation area limitations of existing facilities,” Public Works wrote in their listing. “Our central booking area is much improved over the previous booking area, in that it has significantly expanded the area, but facility limitations have still limited our layout.”

The listing didn’t provide details on what more the county wanted from the space it didn’t get.

Many features county officials say they want have already been incorporated into early designs what a new facility might look like, but it’s unclear whether a major renovation of the existing prison could meet some of the same needs. Members of a steering committee helping to guide the prison’s fate are funding a second study that could answer that question, as well as provide an updated price tag for what a renovation would cost.

In the meantime, county officials continue to push plans forward as if to build a new jail, though they haven’t officially made that decision yet. The county is gearing up to purchase property for new construction and has almost everything ready to start negotiating on a maximum project cost.

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