MANSFIELD: An Open Letter to the New Jail Administrator

Welcome to Cuyahoga County Ms. Ronda Gibson. As you probably already know, we have had the reputation of being one of the worst-run counties in the United States, going back over the last half-century. So the current sad state of affairs is nothing new to us. However, the dangerous situation in the county jail only developed over the last decade or so; previously it was a fairly professionally run organization.

To take on the task of running the county jail you either have to have supreme confidence in your abilities, or you simply are not aware of how bad the situation in the facility happens to be. Obviously, the nine deaths in a relatively short period of time are an alarming indicator of the conditions in the jail, and I can only hope and pray that you are not deluding yourself in regards to what it takes to right this sinking ship.

As a professional correctional administrator, I’m sure you’re well aware of the term “the orderly running of the institution.” It’s the mantra of every jail and prison in the country. The problem is, the Cuyahoga County Jail is not run in an orderly fashion, and I’m speaking primarily of the staff.

Prisoners are supposed to adhere to certain conduct: No running, fighting or horseplay, etc. But corrections officers (CO’s) are supposed to adhere to certain standards of conduct also, and in the county facility, this simply is not the case.

As someone who works in the field of reentry, I speak with individuals coming out of jails and prisons on a regular basis, and the tales I’ve been hearing about the conduct of the COs is alarming. Now I’m not hearing this from people who want to sue the county or have an ax to grind — just individuals who have experience in jails. And I also have enough experience in dealing with prison and jail populations to take what they say with a grain of salt, but in this case, what they are reporting is verifiably true.

The shouting, foul language and other unprofessional conduct among the COs are at an alarming level; they often mob up and act as if they are at a tailgate party rather than at work. I’m sure the county has a policy in place regarding the regulation of the language used by employees. But it’s totally ignored at the jail. Of course, when a senior officer is on the floor, they modify their behavior but immediately go back to the onerous conduct once the supervisor leaves.

I fully realize that changing this behavior is not going to be easy since it’s been going on for so long, but one thing is certain: If it doesn’t change, if the rules are not enforced from the bottom up, no systemic change will occur at the county jail.

In closing, I want you to know that the citizens of Cuyahoga County are in your corner. We want you to succeed in a spectacular manner and turn our jail into a facility we can be proud of — rather than be deeply ashamed.

From CoolCleveland correspondent Mansfield B. Frazier Frazier’s From Behind The Wall: Commentary on Crime, Punishment, Race and the Underclass by a Prison Inmate is available in hardback. Snag your copy and have it signed by the author at http://NeighborhoodSolutionsInc.

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