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New Jail Flushes Contractors with Cash

Poverty-stricken Cuyahoga County gives millions to contractors to plan controversial new jail

Written by Riley Roliff

Residents of Cuyahoga County, home to the one of the poorest major cities in the country, may be made to pay roughly $2 billion in an expanded sales tax over 40 years for the construction of a new jail, after scandals, deaths and indictments led a federal investigation to label the existing county jail as “one of the worst in the country.”

“We consider this a money grab in terms of developers,” said Chinweizu Abu, member of the Cuyahoga County Jail Coalition, which is a culmination of grassroots organizations that formed to protest conditions at the jail.

“There’s just a host of opportunities to invest in communities rather than incarceration..."

One development company that has been particularly involved in the jail project is Project Management Consultants (PMC). PMC has been awarded over $2 million worth of contracts by the county since 2019 for services related to the jail project.

PMC has a long and spotty history in Cleveland. Their resume includes the Global Center for Health Innovation, originally known as Medical Mart, which has cost Cleveland taxpayers over $100 million paid largely through sales tax. The fact that the center has been largely vacant and losing money since its 2013 opening did not stop the county from approving $40 million worth of renovations earlier this year, partially funded with money from the American Rescue Plan.

“This is not a color-blind issue...”

“There’s just a host of opportunities to invest in communities rather than incarceration,” said Josiah Quarles, another member of the Cuyahoga County Jail Coalition as well as the Director of Organizing and Advocacy at Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless. Quarles listed numerous examples. These included developing a response system to behavioral and mental health issues that does not involve police; investing in housing and services for people just coming off the street; funding public transit to lower its cost or make it free; expanding re-entry services that help former prisoners integrate back into communities; investing in environmentally friendly construction; and investing in education.

The land that the county has been zeroing in on to purchase for the jail has an alarming history. In 1982, the state government pulled out of a deal to purchase the same site for a prison at the last minute because of environmental concerns stemming from its previous use as a Standard Oil refinery. When contacted by a reporter, members of the Cuyahoga County Justice Steering Committee, a group of representatives tasked with guiding the jail construction process, claimed to not be aware of this.

It’s no secret who will be most impacted by the new jail. Black people make up over half of the admissions into Cuyahoga County jails despite being 30% of the population. Ninety percent of children tried as adults in the county are Black, despite being 40% of the youth population. Black people make up 80% of the known wrongful convictions in the county since 1989.

“This is not a color-blind issue,” said Abu. “Those who are very poor, those who are very black…those are the ones that are going to bear the brunt.”

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