Recent controversies highlight county jail’s checkered past

After a long history of problems across multiple facilities, the Cuyahoga County jail continues to attract attention for recent deaths amid other issues.

While the Cuyahoga County jail is currently facing myriad issues including understaffing, sanitation issues and recent deaths which have local politicians debating the jail’s future, Cleveland’s main center for the accused awaiting trial is no stranger to controversy.   

The jail, described by a U.S. Marshal’s report in 2019 as “inhumane,” has a long history of inducing public outcry in Northeast Ohio.   

A corrections officer who works in the psychiatric ward of the Cuyahoga County jail, who confirmed their identity with The Exponent but who wished to remain anonymous in order to speak freely on the topic, said there were definite problems facing the jail.  

“I think it’s bad all the way around,” the corrections officer said. “I mean, it’s bad for the inmates, and it’s bad for the staff.”   

In a facility where inmates are supposed to be checked every 15 minutes, short-staffing has caused issues. One incarcerated person, Shondo Moffit, died last April after having not been checked on for 30 minutes when he was found dead next to a white powdery substance and marijuana.  

According to, the jail needs 695 workers to be fully staffed, but around the time of Moffit’s death there were only 648 employees.   

“Well, we have like, safety and sanitation in the hallways and stuff,” the corrections officer said. “But a lot of times they pull those guys to work in other pods because we’re short staffed.”   

This corrections officer said that the sanitation problems are noticeable.  

“The vents are just … You see this mold all over the place,” the corrections officer said.  

In the last few years, the Cuyahoga County Jail has received attention for deaths happening within the facility. In 2018, nine inmates died in the jail.   

According to News 5 Cleveland, former jail director Ken Mills was tried and jailed for falsification and dereliction of duties following the 2018 deaths. Mills has since successfully appealed the decision, with the court agreeing that the initially admitted evidence made for an unfair trial.   

In 2022, four inmates died. Two of those four deaths happened on the very same day, Tuesday, Nov. 1. One of the inmates was a 32-year-old male and the other was a 47-year-old woman.  

The Cuyahoga County Jail released a statement following the deaths claiming to have made more death-preventing measures at the facility.  

“This is sad for the family and our staff,” the statement read. “We’ve increased safety for inmates and Correction Officers by adding two drug detection dogs, two body scanners, issuing suicide prevention blankets, removing bed rails from bunks, adding cameras and radios, and working with MetroHealth to assure physical and behavioral health access.”  

According to Case Western Reserve’s Cleveland Encyclopedia, the history of poor conditions at the county jail stretches back well over 100 years in multiple facilities. In 1886, the jail was reportedly infested with cockroaches and rats. In 1969,  overcrowding was so severe that around 150 inmates burned their mattresses in protest.  

A new jail was completed in 1976, the same one which currently houses those awaiting trial in Cleveland. The current jail is 46 years old but has long continued the trend of an imperfect reputation, even early after its construction. According to Case’s Cleveland Encyclopedia, overcrowding had already become an issue only three years after the jail was built.  

An ongoing issue in the local government has been how to solve some of the problems with the current jail. One of the proposed solutions has been to build a completely new jail. This was an initiative that previous Cuyahoga County Executive Armond Budish was a staunch supporter of. Before Budish left office and was replaced by the current County Executive, Chris Ronayne, the Cuyahoga County Council set aside $53.6 million for renovations to the existing jail, funds for a new jail, as well other expenses for the court house.  

“You know, I’ve been there 23 years and they were talking about it since I was first hired, then that went to the wind,” the corrections officer said. “So far as I know it’s just basically on hold now.”