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Government & Politics

Cuyahoga County Seeks Operator For Jail Diversion Center

Cuyahoga County is searching for an operator for a new diversion center meant to redirect people from jail to mental health and addiction treatment.

The long-discussed diversion center could relieve pressure on the typically crowded Cuyahoga County Jail. Potential operators have until June 24 to submit plans in response to a county request for proposals (RFP).

The center would offer space for up to 150 beds, provide crisis intervention training and operate a 24-hour help line for law enforcement, according to the RFP.

Out of more than 2,100 inmates in the county’s average daily population over a six-month period last year, more than 700 had serious mental health and substance abuse issues, according to the county.

“And often, the reason why they end up in our jails is they may have committed a crime, but it was often because of those mental health and or addiction needs that the individual has,” Chief of Special Operations Brandy Carney told county council members at a Tuesday committee hearing.

Republican County Councilwoman Nan Baker asked why the county settled on 150 beds given that the county’s figures illustrated a larger need.

Carney said the proposed 150-bed capacity was a manageable starting point for the county, though that number could grow. The administration and county prosecutor’s office will work out criteria for diversion eligibility, she said.

The county has considered setting up sites on both the East and West sides, Carney said.

“Law enforcement would love to have one on both sides of the county,” she said. “But again, we’re going to have to look at cost. That could potentially be a much larger cost.”

The county has committed $2.5 million from its opioid settlement funds for the center. It’s unclear how much the project would cost the county in full.

Numerous local organizations have expressed interest in running such a center. NAMI Greater Cleveland, Oriana House, MetroHealth Medical Center and other groups responded to the county’s request for information earlier this year.

Activists from Greater Cleveland Congregations called for the county to invest in mental health centers as part of negotiations over public funding for the expansion of Quicken Loans Arena in 2017.

Years of overcrowding, several inmate deaths and a scathing 2018 U.S. Marshals Service report increased pressure on local officials to bring down the jail population.

The county dramatically reduced the number of people in jail earlier this year as a precaution against the spread of the coronavirus.

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