Cleveland, OH — In the last four months, six inmates inside the Cuyahoga County Jail have met an untimely demise. The suspicious nature of their deaths and the subsequent blocking of information by the jail has one Cleveland Judge taking action and refusing to send people to jail who are charged with crimes.
Cleveland Municipal Judge Michael Nelson announced this week that he will no longer be sending people to the jail unless they are accused of committing horrible crimes because inmates keep turning up dead.
Instead of locking them up, Nelson will set personal bonds for people—meaning that the judge will turn people loose on their own accord instead of making them pay bail. The judge reached out to Cleveland.com this week to tell them that he plans on reaching out to the court’s administrative judge, Michelle Earley, to set up a meeting to figure out why so many inmates are dying.
“The first thing I did this morning when I saw [the cleveland.com] story is look to see if it was someone I sent to jail,” Nelson said. “I’m giving personal bonds to everyone from now on unless they’re the worst of the worst until things get figured out at the jail.”
Earley told Cleveland.com via an emailed statement that she has set up a meeting with jail officials to get to the bottom of this string of deaths.
“Both the warden of the county jail and the Chief of Public Safety for Cuyahoga County have agreed to meet with me so that the Court can get a better understanding of what is going on with the jail, what has happened in these situations and what plans the jail has/will implement to prevent further inmate deaths in the facility,” Earley’s statement said.
The most recent death involved 44-year-old Martin Gomez who died just four days after being booked. Gomez was thrown in the jail for possessing less than five grams of cocaine. Gomez couldn’t afford the $150 bail to get out of jail and four days later he would be found dead.
Adding a shroud of mystery to Gomez’ death is the fact that Cuyahoga County officials have refused to release any details as to how he died. County spokeswoman Mary Louise Madigan would not say when Gomez was taken to the hospital or the circumstances surrounding the death, according to Cleveland.com.
Had Gomez come across judge Nelson, he may still be alive today.
After the judge announced that he would start refusing to send people to jail, Cuyahoga County announced that it will hire an outside investigator to look into the six inmates who died in four months.
The county issued a statement Wednesday noting that Cuyahoga County Executive Armond Budish’s administration will ask the county council to approve funding for an independent expert to investigate the jail’s entire operation, including the downtown Justice Center, the Euclid and Bedford jails, according to Cleveland.com.
“We are very concerned about the recent deaths in the County jail,” the statement said. “While each situation is individual and we are still in the process of investigating the causes of each inmate’s death, there is a common thread – each death occurred within our County jail system.”
As TFTP has reported, hundreds of people die in jail every year across the country. While this number is certainly shocking, what’s even more shocking is the fact that over 75 percent of them were never convicted of a crime—meaning they were too poor to pay their bail—and died waiting to see a judge.
The details behind these deaths are largely unknown, and in most cases the blame is put on the inmate, either for health reasons, or alleged suicides.
According to one report, of the 12,623 deaths reported in local jails from 2000-2012, only 3,105 of them were actually convicted of a crime. The other 9,518 inmates were never found guilty before dying in their cages. If we extrapolate these numbers out to days, on average, 2 people die in jail every single day, who’ve never been found guilty of a crime.
Perhaps judge Nelson will raise awareness to the fact that not everyone accused of a crime needs to be thrown in jail. Those who haven’t committed violent crimes or who are accused of traffic offenses and other state related victimless crimes would most likely benefit from not being thrown in a cage.