The Cuyahoga County Jail saga shows the power of organizing


Courtesy of Kaitlin Durbin/

Roughly 100 residents attended a public meeting on Aug. 25, 2022 to voice their opinion on Cuyahoga County’s plans to build a new jail and locate it at 2700 Transport Road, which is currently contaminated and unfit for human use.

Avi Horwitz, Staff Writer

In a move that would have been inconceivable a year ago, this past week on Oct. 4 the steering committee for the creation of a new Cuyahoga County Jail narrowly rejected the potential site at 2700 Transport Road in a 5-6-1 vote. While this vote is not necessarily the end of the story, this incredible victory would not have been possible without the Cuyahoga County Jail Coalition’s organization.

In 2018, the U.S. Marshals released a report detailing the inhumane conditions at the existing Cuyahoga County Jail. Examples include inmates being denied mental health services, medical personnel lacking the correct licenses, pregnant women having to sleep on the floor and the usage of food restrictions as punishment. Since 2018, 14 inmates have died in the jail. 

Rather than actually addressing these despicable conditions, the county plans to build an entirely new jail, which could cost taxpayers between $550 million and $750 million. The Jail Coalition, which has long engaged in efforts to improve conditions, has derided the plan for a new jail as “costly, unnecessary, and an unwanted waste of taxpayers’ money” and has called out a speedy process mired in controversy. Behind a campaign of “Care Not Cages,” the Jail Coalition asserts that the county should instead be prioritizing alternatives to incarceration and should instead be investing in the community.

By itself, the plan for building a new jail makes little sense. However, the most recent proposal for its location, 2700 Transport Road, underscored the already absurd notion that this project was being pushed forward for the benefit of the community or inmates. From 1863 until 1966, the Transport Road site was the home to a Standard Oil refinery. Earlier this year, an environmental assessment found that toxins in the ground, air, and water could all threaten construction workers, inmates and jail employees. While the site assessment indicates that with proper remediation, the site could be usable, considering the terrible conditions at the current jail, there’s no reason to believe the county would properly employ the costly controls to make the site safe. 

The Oct. 4 vote by the steering committee against the Transport Road site reflected the nearly year-long efforts by the Jail Coalition to build opposition against the new jail and highlight the environmental concerns. In addition to putting together a petition and letter-writing campaign, the Jail Coalition held a rally in March with the Greater Cleveland Housing Justice Coalition and has regularly organized community members to give public comments at various county meetings. Most notably, on Aug. 25, over 100 people attended a community meeting to show their opposition, during which 25 attendees gave public comments. 

Unfortunately, the steering committee will not have the final say on that matter—that will be up to the county council. On Oct. 12, the council put all plans for the jail on hold until the election of the next county executive. However, both candidates running on the ballot this November—Chris Ronyane and Lee Weingart—have vowed that they would not move forward and purchase the property. 

Regardless of what happens next, the recent rejection of 2700 Transport Road is a testament to the work of the Jail Coalition and serves as a reminder of the power of community organizing.