Improving jail inspections

COLUMBUS – Ohio Governor Mike DeWine recently announced several steps toward improving Ohio’s jail inspection system, including a plan to significantly expand the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction’s (ODRC) Bureau of Adult Detention.

In March, Governor DeWine directed ODRC to examine the overall jail inspection process, including the operations of the bureau, which has compliance oversight for more than 300 jails and temporary holding facilities in Ohio.

ODRC’s review found that the Ohio Bureau of Adult Detention is substantially understaffed relative to its workload, which includes annual, on-site inspections of all local jails; the examination of citizen/inmate complaints; and the investigation of critical incidents, such as in-custody deaths, use-of-force incidents, and inmate violence.

Governor DeWine has asked ODRC Director Annette Chambers-Smith to more than double the size of the Ohio Bureau of Adult Detention from six employees to 15 employees to enable them to conduct jail inspections on all minimum standards each year. Currently, jail inspectors only examine essential standards on an annual basis, while other minimum standards are reviewed on a biennial rotating inspection schedule.

“Those with the Ohio Bureau of Adult Detention have worked hard with limited resources to annually inspect local jails, but their examinations haven’t been as comprehensive as I believe they should be,” said Governor DeWine. “It’s time that this division has the tools to effectively carry out its statutory obligations.”

The new staff will also include a registered nurse to investigate medical complaints and examine jail standards related to proper medical care.

Ohio Bureau of Adult Detention jail inspections focus on a number of issues, including inmate health, living conditions, and the safety of inmates and corrections officers. In 2018, the bureau rated 44 of 88 full-service jails as non-compliant, including the Cuyahoga County Corrections Center, which was non-compliant in 84 of 135 standards.

Additional work to improve the overall jail inspection system include:

* Enhanced Transparency: The Ohio Bureau of Adult Detention typically provides completed inspection reports to the jail administrator, sheriff or police chief, and the government entity with oversight over the jail, such as the board of commissioners or city council. To encourage broad awareness about the compliance status of local jails, Governor DeWine has requested that the bureau also begin providing each yearly report to county and municipal administrative judges and the county prosecutor.

* Standardized Grand Jury Reports: As defined by Ohio Revised Code 2939.21, county grand juries must examine the conditions of their county jails on a quarterly basis and report their findings to the common pleas court. ODRC’s review of the jail inspection system found that these grand jury reports are not uniform. Governor DeWine has asked the Ohio Bureau of Adult Detention and Ohio Jail Advisory Board to work with the Supreme Court of Ohio to develop a standardized grand jury inspection report to aid grand jurors in their jail examinations.

* Unannounced Inspections: Governor DeWine has asked ODRC to work with the Ohio General Assembly to develop legislation allowing for unannounced inspections at local jails. Currently, on-site inspections by the Ohio Bureau of Adult Detention must be scheduled in advance. Unannounced visits would allow inspectors to more accurately assess jail conditions.

* Mandatory Critical Incident Reporting: Governor DeWine has asked ODRC to work with the Ohio General Assembly to mandate that local jails report critical incidents to ODRC. Right now, the reporting of incidents such as in-custody deaths, acts of inmate violence, and use-of-force by corrections officers is optional. Comprehensive reporting would enhance transparency surrounding serious jail incidents.

Governor DeWine has also ordered the Ohio Bureau of Adult Detention to conduct regular compliance monitoring at the Cuyahoga County Corrections Center at least every 30 days. Following a reinspection this month, the center is now non-compliant in 66 of 135 standards. Additional legal action may be taken should this jail fail to demonstrate significant improvements.