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Cleveland-area jail working to release 300 non-violent defendants to reduce coronavirus risk

Posted at 8:49 AM, Mar 16, 2020
and last updated 2020-03-16 08:49:02-04

CLEVELAND — The Cuyahoga County Jail is working toward releasing up to 300 non-violent defendants over the next few weeks, in an effort to reduce coronavirus risk.

Cuyahoga Administrative Judge Brendan Sheehan said officials must reduce the current jail population of 1,900 to avoid the potential for a medical emergency.

Sheehan said the court is responding by holding hearings on the weekend. Some judges are tripling their dockets, hoping to get more cases through the system and settled.

Sheehan said the effort would not jeopardize public safety and would protect the well-being of inmates, and court and jail employees.

"We don't want the public to panic, this is not like the jail is opening the door and everyone is running out," Sheehan said. "People who deserve to go to prison are going to go to prison, people who deserve a second chance, we're giving them a chance to get second chances."

"It's not a matter of if this virus hits, it's when this virus hits our jail," he said.

The court system is also trying to get violent offenders moved quickly to correctional facilities across the state.

Sheehan said MetroHealth, Cleveland's public healthcare system, is working with jail staff to try and catch-up on inmate coronavirus monitoring.

"There is no testing done right now, there is not enough testing equipment right now, but they're doing it the old fashion way," Sheehan said. "If you have a high temperature, that's a sign you're not coming in."

Sheehan said it's an effort to reduce the jail population and prevent an emergency.

"We don't want to let our jail sit the way it is now; we've got to do something," he said.

"If it hits right now, the sheriff is going to be crippled, and he's going to be looking at me and saying we've got to order people out of jail," Sheehan said. "At least now we're doing it in a systematic approach, and judges are able to use their discretion."

This story was originally published by Joe Pagonakis on WEWS in Cleveland.