Cuyahoga County Council approved spending $38 million on Sept. 26 to purchase land in the suburb of Garfield Heights to build a new county jail. The jail itself has an estimated price tag of another $750 million, but with interest payments to bondholders on a 40-year loan, the actual cost to county taxpayers could easily top $2 billion.
Members of the Cuyahoga County Jail Coalition spoke out in opposition during a public comment session when the council met Oct. 10 and 11. The coalition and the No New Jail campaign have been actively opposing a new jail since plans for it were made public. Community members were able to apply enough pressure to prevent the new jail from being built on a toxic site in Cleveland, a former oil refinery.
However, the new site, while cleaner, is in an inconvenient location for many county residents with incarcerated loved ones. Most importantly, the campaign aims to stop billions of dollars from going to any new jail. Speakers at Council meetings have argued that money should be used for alternatives to incarceration, such as mental health services, along with jobs, education and other human needs.
Proposed funding plans for the jail include extending a county sales tax — currently the highest in any Ohio county — due to expire in 2027. Sales taxes are regressive, disproportionately impacting poor people, who have to spend a higher percentage of their income on necessities than rich people.
Days before the Council met, on Oct. 6, Freddie Tackett died in the county jail after experiencing a medical emergency. This was the third jail death since July, with all of them blamed on jail staff negligence. Activists continue to ask the County Council, “How will building a new jail prevent a single death?”
The new jail is not a done deal; while the purchase of the proposed site has been completed, the Council has not approved the financing plan for construction costs. A 40-year extension of the sales tax after 2027 is widely unpopular.
No new jail!