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A judge in Cleveland is refusing to send people accused of low-level crimes into the county jail system, citing safety concerns after six inmate deaths in four months.
The judge, Michael L. Nelson Sr. of Cleveland Municipal Court, said this week that he would release people charged with such crimes until their next court appearance, rather than holding them on bail, which many defendants cannot afford.
Defendants who are released must still agree to any conditions imposed, which could include electronic monitoring or regular check-ins.
“Six deaths means the jail is unsafe,” Judge Nelson said in a phone interview. “You shouldn’t die before we see you in court.”
Five of the six inmates were being held at the Cuyahoga County Jail in Cleveland, and one was at the Euclid City Jail, which is also run by the county, according to the county medical examiner.
The cause of death has yet to be determined in two of the cases, the most recent of which occurred on Tuesday. That prisoner, Allan Martin Gomez Roman, 44, died four days after he was arrested on a warrant stemming from a cocaine possession charge, Cleveland.com reported. Two of the other men who died were found hanging in their cells, and two had drugs in their systems at the time of their deaths, the authorities said.
In a statement, the Cuyahoga County sheriff, Clifford Pinkney, said he would ask the County Council to pay for an independent expert to assess the jail system.
He added that the jails were dealing with an influx of people struggling with addiction and psychological problems.
A report released last year by the Pretrial Justice Institute found that the Cuyahoga County Jail, with 2,100 beds, had been operating at over 100 percent capacity, on average, in four of the previous five years.
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