Cleveland, OH – Up to 300 inmates will be released from the Cuyahoga County Jail over the course of the next several weeks due to concerns about the potential spread of COVID-19.
“It’s not a matter of if this virus hits, it’s when this virus hits our jail,” Cuyahoga Administrative Judge Brendan Sheehan told WEWS.
“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.”
Sheehan noted that the jail will need empty space to quarantine inmates in coming weeks, WJW reported.
Judges have tripled their dockets and held hearings over the weekend to help reduce the total number of inmates in the facility, which initially stood at 1,900, according to WEWS.
Sheehan said that essentially all inmates could be considered for release, WJW reported.
Some will also be placed on house arrest.
“We don’t want the public to panic, this is not like the jail is opening the door and everyone is running out,” he told WEWS. “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.”
The court is also working to move violent offenders into state correctional facilities more quickly.
In the meantime, jail officials have been trying to screen incoming inmates, even though they have no tools to do so.
“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 told WEWS. “If you have a high temperature, I can tell you what – that’s a sign you’re not coming in.”
More expedited hearings are expected to take place through Thursday, WJW reported.