CLEVELAND -- Following the deaths of six inmates from the Cuyahoga County Jail, U.S. Marshals are stepping in, to conduct an independent inspection of the jail, at the request of County Executive Armond Budish.
"There's something wrong when people are dying in the jail," said Budish.
He requested assistance from Northern Ohio District U.S. Marshal Pete Elliott, who recruited the services of the U.S. Marshals' Detention Standards and Compliance branch in Washington, D.C. The branch conducts federal inspections of facilities that house federal detainees, to ensure the facilities are safe, humane, and protect the statutory and constitutional rights of detainees.
The move follows months of criticism of jail operations by former jail medical staff.
Last May, former jail nursing supervisor, Gary Brack, spoke out about dangerous staffing levels, in which inmates were not receiving proper medical treatment, and corrections personnel is understaffed.
"Something is going to happen to an inmate with that staffing level," he told Channel 3 News.
Brack's claims were backed up by another former employee, Marcus Harris, who served as the jail's nursing director.
"You do the math. Three nurses to 2100 inmates. One nurse for 700 inmates," said Harris last June.
Jail officials deny those claims. They cite recent state inspection reports that declared the county-run jails were compliant with state regulations.
However, following the deaths of six inmates in just 4 months, Cleveland Municipal Court Judge Michael Nelson made the controversial decision last week, to no longer sentence non-violent inmates to the county jail.
"Six deaths in four months? That's unsafe. Very unsafe," said Nelson.
Four of the deaths were due to drugs or suicide, while the causes of two of the deaths have not been determined by the Cuyahoga Medical Examiner.
The U.S. Marshals Office also has a stake in the county jail, because it houses federal inmates.
"It'll be a full compliance inspection and review," said Elliott. "We''ll recommend corrective actions, I will pass along feedback to the county, and I think they'll take a look at everything."
There is no timetable yet for the inspection process to be completed. Elliott said marshals from Cleveland, Toledo, and Akron will be available to assist marshals from the Washington D.C. branch.
But there is a sense of urgency to make improvements at the jail.
"It doesn't matter whether the inmates committed a serious crime, or a crime that is considered low-level," said Budish.
"We must protect our inmates in the jail. It's our responsibility," he said.