Citing a “staffing crisis,” judge calls for raises at juvenile detention center

Citing a staffing “crisis” at the juvenile lockup that could lead to a “catastrophe,” a Cuyahoga County Juvenile Court’s administrative judge has asked county officials to raise salaries of detention center officers, The Plain Dealer reported Sept. 1.

In an Aug. 24 letter to Cuyahoga County Public Safety Chief Robert Coury, Judge Thomas O’Malley detailed numerous issues at the center, including a staffing crisis that has led to an increase of youth kept in isolation, unleashing violence inside the facility.

The detention center has 83 officers — 20 fewer than full staffing, according to O’Malley’s letter. Another 27 officers are unable to work due to health problems. 

“(O’Malley) asked for juvenile detention center officers to be paid the same as Cuyahoga County Jail officers, who last month accepted substantial raises to help quell a sharp decrease in officers at the adult jail,” Adam Ferrise wrote in The Plain Dealer. “If Cuyahoga County Council approves the raises, jail officers will be paid a starting wage of $24 per hour, and increase to $28 per hour after three years, and get an attendance bonus if certain criteria are met.”

Before the raise, a new juvenile detention center officer made a little over $18 per hour. 

“The above-listed compensation requests are necessary to effectively address the needs of the youth within our care and to ensure the safe operation of the facility,” O’Malley wrote. “Attempts to continue the operation of the Detention Facility under the present staffing conditions has the potential for catastrophe, which introduces an unacceptable level of liability to the Juvenile Court and Cuyahoga County.”

A predictable catastrophe of administrative mismanagement 

The staffing crisis has gotten so bad that court officials are considering training other employees to do the job of an officer, The Plain Dealer reported, citing an email from Juvenile Court Administrative Assistant Sabrina Dix.

A lack of officers at the center has brewed violence and a $20,000 riot. In 2020, there were 15 assaults by youth on officers. That jumped to 27 in the first six months of 2021, according to O’Malley’s letter. He described the current situation as “a state of crisis.”

Judges rejected a 4 percent raise requested by the Union at the end of its contract in 2019, only to approve a 3 percent raise in 2021. 

“When it was the union’s idea, they fought us,” Colin Sikon, a field representative for Laborer’s Local 860, told The Plain Dealer. “Had they listened back then and put more money on the table, they wouldn’t be in the staffing situation they are now. When left to their own devices, the court, without oversight, will sink the ship.”

For years, we’ve been warning administrators the situation is a faulty pressure cooker fixing to explode. 

When the administration abandoned the contract of its workers’ Union, we knew it would lead to a staffing crisis, due to low pay and a lack of adequate training. Administration mismanagement would inevitably lead to violence.

When administration officials walked away from the bargaining table and sought legal assistance from its “Sister” Court, the General Division of the Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas, we sadly predicted the center’s young residents would be the ones who would suffer. That’s exactly what has happened.

Our kids deserve better. 

Sign the petition found at the bottom of our homepage. Tell the Court it needs better staffing and employee training to keep our children safe.