Ohio state Senator Nickie Antonio and Ohio state Rep. Jeff Crossman spoke today in advance of planned but as-of-yet unwritten legislation the pair of Democrats says is needed to help the state enforce compliance and safety in local jails.
The backbone of the policies, which were announced at a press conference this morning, would allow the state to better clamp down on noncompliant facilities, take jails to court if improvements are not made, and establish a whistleblower hotline for jail employees. This comes after much consternation at the abysmal and inhumane conditions in the Cuyahoga County jail, where nine inmates have died in the last year, and revelations that inspections were lax and rubber-stamped.
“It is apparent that there are changes that can and must be made legislatively to address systematic issues that manifested in Cuyahoga County’s jail,” Crossman said at the press conference. “As State legislators, we bear responsibility for helping get this right. The issues with the jail in Cuyahoga County did not develop overnight and appear to represent a failure of the entire system. However, it is important to be clear, our purpose today is not to cast blame or find fault with anyone or any agency. We are here to acknowledge that problems exist and recognize that we have the ability to make improvements that deliver on Ohio’s Promise to treat all of its citizens
fairly and with dignity.”
Among those problems: That the Ohio department of corrections only had six inspectors for Ohio’s 300 jails. Governor DeWine has said the number will be increased to 15, but, as Sen. Antonio said this morning, inspections without the teeth of enforcement only go so far.
“If the ODRC had these additional tools at its disposal, we could all feel much more confident that the jails across the state would either operate in a compliant manner or swiftly obtain compliance in the event issues arise,” Antonio said. “As a policy, we want to incorporate additional accountability and pronounced urgency into the Ohio Revised Code.”