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Ohio juvenile detention center is dangerously understaffed, court officials warn

Cuyahoga County Juvenile Detention Center wants to add 26 detention officers and increase pay to combat overtime expenses and reduce officer burnout


Detention center officials asked for a pay increase for the non-unionized juvenile detention officers to same rate as unionized jail officers who supervise adults.

Marvin Fong

By Lucas Daprile

CLEVELAND — Cuyahoga County’s juvenile detention center is understaffed to the point where it is dangerous for everyone involved, juvenile court officials say.

Ringing the alarm bells are Tim McDevitt, a deputy court administrator for the county’s Juvenile Division, and Mark Stanton, Cuyahoga County’s former public defender who is serving as a juvenile court magistrate.

The pair went to a Tuesday meeting of County Council’s public safety committee to ask for solutions. McDevitt said the 110 detention officers currently on staff is far too few, and they’re being asked to work so much that overtime costs are expected to reach $5 million by the end of the year.

That’s why the Juvenile Detention Center wants to add 26 detention officers and increase pay, which would add $2 million to the annual budget, McDevitt said.

That decision ultimately rests with County Council, which controls the juvenile court’s purse strings. Two council members, Dale Miller and Mike Gallagher, raised concerns on Tuesday about the potential pay increases. They worry that corrections officers at the jail will seek another pay raise if juvenile detention officers receive one.

Council President Pernel Jones Jr. voiced general support for the detention officers but stopped short of promising raises. He also advocated for an increased focus on rehabilitation for young offenders, many of whom have suffered from abuse or poverty.

McDevitt said the juvenile center is already moving juveniles to less restrictive environments whenever possible. But that isn’t always possible when they are convicted of violent crimes or struggle with severe mental health issues, he said.

For the juveniles who remain at the detention center, staffing levels are “woefully inadequate and creates a dangerous situation,” Stanton said.

“That money to pay that overtime is diverted from other programs, other divisions in the juvenile court that are absolutely essential to the safety and welfare for these children in the court,” Stanton said at the committee meeting.

The detention officers are “dedicated” and “want to be there,” but are getting burned out working in difficult conditions, Stanton said.

McDevitt urged the county to pay juvenile detention officers $26.50 per hour, which will be the base pay for corrections officers who oversee adult inmates at the county jail starting in 2025. The jail’s officers are unionized, but the juvenile detention officers are not.

“We do believe our detention officers should make the same pay as corrections officers,” McDevitt said in an email. “Working in a juvenile detention center is incredibly challenging work and we must offer competitive compensation to attract and retain the staff that we need.”

Staffing at the juvenile detention center is better now than it was in 2021, when there was only 88 officers on staff, McDevitt said.

Even so, the current staff of 110 “is still inadequate,” he said.

The overtime issue often manifests when a detention officer is nearing the end of their shift, and are then told they need to work an additional eight hours because the next shift is also understaffed, McDevitt said. Staff being required to work so many extra hours is not only burning them out, but they’re also less effective after logging double-digit hours for the day, McDevitt said.

“Our staff have families, they have lives outside the building… that only happens so many times before they start looking at other jobs, and we’ve been told that in exit interviews,” McDevitt said.

Beyond burnout concerns, many detainees struggle with severe mental health issues, which requires increased attention from staff. For example, one juvenile detainee often bites his own arm so hard he bleeds, McDevitt said. Earlier this year, he bit himself so hard “blood was pulsing out of his arm and around the unit,” and staff was worried he was going to die, he said. That inmate has been taken to the emergency room more than 25 times, McDevitt said.

Another teenage inmate has a bullet lodged in his brain after surviving a gunshot wound. That inmate will sometimes try to hit his head against the ground, causing staff to jump in and stop him to prevent the bullet from moving and causing further injury, McDevitt said.

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