Hunger, soiled underwear, isolation: living conditions at the juvenile detention center

Being treated like animals, feeling scared for their lives, longing to see and hear from family — that’s how one youth resident described life at the Cuyahoga County Juvenile Detention Center.

Our kids deserve better. 

In an Oct. 6 guest editorial in The Plain Dealer, Cleveland attorney Leah Winsberg describes the cramped conditions young residents must endure for long periods of time, due to a staffing crisis that has led to numerous outbreaks of violence at the center.

“(The residents)  remain locked in drab cells, just big enough to fit a narrow mattress on top a concrete bench for sleeping,” she writes. “This is where they spend most – and sometimes all – of their days. Use of isolation has only intensified during the pandemic, with severe staff shortages.”

Winsberg is an attorney with the Children’s Law Center Inc. and a Cleveland resident.

Hunger, depression, suicide: The effects of forced isolation

Credible sources have told Winsberg the youth residents lack access to basic hygiene such as soap, clean laundry and sanitized living quarters. They are sometimes forced to wear soiled underwear and be shackled to use the bathroom. Hunger is common at the facility. 

“There aren’t enough staff to transport youth throughout the facility,” she writes. “Thus, meals are delayed, youth eat alone in their cells, daily exercise and in-person school is denied, and rehabilitative programming and family contact is nonexistent.”

Children are especially damaged by isolation, Winsberg writes. The consequences can be long lasting and include depression and suicide.

During an August riot caused by long term confinement brought on by a staffing shortage, one boy attempted to hang himself from a ceiling. Another attempted to harm himself. 

Our youth will never be the same

What’s happening at the center is a tragedy for the children as well as the community.

“In reality, we all pay for these ongoing failures,” Winsberg writes. “When these children are released, they will bear the scars of the trauma inflicted on them in this facility. And our community will face the consequences.”

It’s the inevitable result of abandoning workers at the bargaining table. 

When administration officials walked away from negotiations and sought legal assistance from its “Sister” Court, the General Division of the Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas, we knew it would ultimately be the kids and the community who would suffer the most.

Our kids suffer because the center does not have adequate staffing resources to care for them. They don’t have the people because county administrators abandoned the workers’ union. Low pay, a lack of support and training have created an environment that’s unhealthy for children. Without adequate resources, these kids will continue to struggle to rehabilitate their lives. 

Sign the petition found at the bottom of our homepage. Tell the Court our kids deserve the care they need to get their lives back on track. The community depends on it.