CLEVELAND — The question of whether Cuyahoga County will renovate its existing jail or go ahead with a new corrections center was answered Thursday by County Executive Chris Ronayne.
In a release, the county says it "made the determination that the current corrections center is challenging to maintain as a long-term solution for detention."
Subsequently, Ronayne and his administration began a search process to find a new site for "a modern jail campus that conforms to today’s best practices." The county says that selection process has narrowed from dozens of potential sites to a short list of locations being vetted in partnership with Cuyahoga County Council.
“We have a once in a generation opportunity to make intentional changes to our justice system,” said Ronayne. “We need to act with deliberate speed so that all of our justice facilities are safe, effective, humane and affordable for our community.”
The quest for a new Cuyahoga County Corrections Center was put on hold last fall when the 12-member Justice Center Executive Steering Committee voted down a proposal to purchase 44 acres of land at 2700 Transport Road in Cleveland to house the new facility.
At issue was the question of the environmental safety at the three parcels of land, which is now the site of a container storage facility, but once housed a Standard Oil refinery.
The proposal submitted in July by then-Cuyahoga County Executive Armond Budish called for the county to take control of the 40-acre Cuyahoga Valley Industrial Center site in Slavic Village that used to be the home of a steel mill, then offer that area for the container storage facility company to purchase for $6.4 million. Cuyahoga County would then buy the land on Transport Road for $20 million.
The site in Slavic Village was considered as a potential site of the next Cuyahoga County Jail, but political and community leaders in Cleveland pushed back because of its proximity to residential areas as well as the Boys and Girls Clubs of Northeast Ohio on Broadway.
In 2021, Budish said a new Cuyahoga County Corrections Center would house approximately 1,900 inmates and would be ready in 2025. The cost of the jail at the time was estimated at $550 million. By September of 2022, that estimate inflated to around $700 million.
While the search for a new facility continues, Ronayne and his team are also looking at securing "key, necessary physical updates to the current jail," but the county's release did not mention any specifics.
The county will also post a new position, a "justice expeditor," who will identify those who might be eligible for release with low bonds or who may be able to be relocated safely to other facilities. The expeditor will also work with officials to connect those in detention with appropriate resources. The goal of this position will be to help lower the jail population and ensure that individuals with serious medical and mental health issues are in the best location for treatment.