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Ohio Jails Under Investigation

Governor Mike DeWine admitted back in June 2019 that the state Department of Rehabilitation and Correction (DRC) standards were outdated and did not reflect societal changes. “Look, running a jail today is very different than it was 50 years ago or 25 years ago. With the massive amount of people that have a mental health problem or who have substance abuse problem in our county jails, they are under tremendous pressure,” he said.

The 2020 reports said the DRC had tripled the staff of jail inspectors from three to nine and would begin top-to-bottom annual inspections of its facilities. Ohio’s administrative code also was altered to include surprise inspections and mandated that critical incidents such as use-of-force and suicides be reported. The period from May to December of 2019 recorded 25 escapes, 21 deaths, 16 suicides (as well as two more attempts considered “serious”), three charges of sexual misconduct and three fires.

The changes in DRC policy follow 15 federal lawsuits in recent years regarding overcrowding and abuses at the Montgomery County Jail in Dayton. The resulting payouts and legal fees have cost the county $13 million so far. After a two-year investigation, the Justice Advisory Committee compiled a list of 90 changes or improvements that need to be made at the facility.

The Cuyahoga County Jail in Cleveland fell under an investigation from the U.S. Marshals Service after seven prisoners died there in 2018 over a stretch of just four months. The resulting report ruled that conditions at the facility were unsafe and inhumane, and a follow-up by the DRC noted a failure to meet almost two-thirds of state requirements. Further investigations by the FBI regarding prisoner mistreatment and by the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation into the possible corruption of county officials were ongoing.

The DRC issued new standards intended to alleviate problems at the state’s jails. These included minimum space and restroom facility requirements; access to exercise, television and reading materials; and the availability of mental, health and dental services.