Governor: Ohio must step up state oversight of county jails

In the wake of high-profile lawsuits and inmate deaths in Cleveland, Dayton and around Ohio, Gov. Mike DeWine announced plans to beef up state inspections and oversight of county jails.

DeWine wants the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction to hire nine more employees, boosting the force to 15, to conduct annual inspections.

ODRC’s bureau of adult detention conducts inspections, examines complaints and investigates critical incidents at more than 300 jails across the state. The bureau will hire a registered nurse to examine medical complaints and care.

RELATED: 15 lawsuits brought against area county jails

DeWine also is calling for wider distribution of inspection reports, unannounced inspections, and mandatory reporting of critical incidents in jails to ODRC. Currently, reporting of in-custody deaths or use-of-force is optional.

The governor’s office said 44 of Ohio’s 88 full-service jails were non-compliant, especially Cuyahoga County Jail, which in 2018 failed at 84 of 135 standards.

In 2018, U.S. marshals found “inhumane” conditions and civil rights abuses at the Cleveland facility, where nine inmates have died since early 2018.

RELATED: After 14 lawsuits, cultural changes needed at county jail, watchdogs say

Montgomery County Jail has faced at least 15 lawsuits over allegations of inmate mistreatment and overcrowding in the past few years. The county and its insurers have paid a price defending and settling lawsuits related to the jail.

The payouts from six completed or pending settlements could total around $10 million with other lawsuits still in court. The total does not include attorney bills.

The number includes a proposed $3.5 million to the family of Robert Richardson Sr., who died in 2012 while handcuffed face down in the jail, and more than $5 million to Joseph Guglielmo, a homeless veteran who said he had his head slammed into a concrete wall and has brain damage.

RELATED: Inmates denied proper medical attention, updated jail lawsuit claims

The lawsuit claimed a jail sergeant used excessive force and acted in deliberate indifference to Guglielmo’s medical needs. It also said Guglielmo’s mistreatment and suffering was the result of “a custom or policy of permitting the use of excessive force against pretrial detainees” at the jail.

A lawsuit brought by the step-father of Sasha Garvin also is in federal court. Garvin was serving a short sentence in the Montgomery County Jail when she complained of “10 out of 10” pain and health care workers knew she had Crohn’s Disease, the suit alleges.

Garvin died of an impacted bowel that jail leaders at first thought was a drug overdose. Garvin’s autopsy showed no traces of illegal drugs.

RELATED: Community group says Montgomery County needs new jail

Jeffrey Day spent five days in the jail with a broken pelvis and was not given anything more than an over-the-counter pain reliever. The Garvin and Day cases also are pending in court.

ODRC inspected Montgomery County Jail in October 2018 when 808 inmates were being held, though the average has been closer to 700 in recent months.

ODRC recommends the jail hold no more than 443, based on minimum square footage standards. Inspectors also found night time noise exceeded the 45 decibel standard.

RELATED: Local jails overcrowded, failing safety standards, investigation shows

Overall, the Montgomery County Jail was in compliance with at least 90 percent of the important standards, the report said.

A lawsuit filed in July 2018 by several area defense attorneys in Dayton’s U.S. District Court claimed the jail is overcrowded and that inmates did not get proper medical attention and were mistreated.

U.S. District Court Judge Walter Rice has set a June 25 status conference when Montgomery County administrator Michael Colbert will address steps the jail may take in response to the county’s jail justice committee report delivered in February.

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