The former director of Ohio’s Cuyahoga County Jail will learn what it is like to live behind bars after a judge sentenced him to nine months for creating inhumane conditions in the facility he oversaw.
Following a three-week trial, Ken Mills, 56, the former director, was found guilty on two counts of dereliction of duty and two counts of misdemeanor falsification. Mills was not found guilty on another count, that of felony record tampering.
The judge, Patricia Cosgrove of the Summit County Common Pleas Court, told Mills, “I do not know how you can live with yourself.” She imposed the maximum sentence on Mills.
A spokeswoman for the Cuyahoga County Sheriff’s Department said Mills will not serve his time at the jail he ran for almost four years.
U.S. Marshals Service Report
In 2018, as part of its facility review reporting, a U.S. Marshals Service Report found that Cuyahoga County Jail inmates had to live in “unacceptable conditions in an inhumane environment.”
At that point, six inmate deaths had occurred recently at the jail. Investigators discovered that medical staffers did not have current licenses and certifications.
Inmates told investigators of cruel treatment at the hand of staff members. Juveniles, who are supposed to be held separately from adult inmates, were housed together with them. Juveniles did not receive the educational activities they were supposed to have.
Staff withheld basic necessities from prisoners, such as toilet paper, toothbrushes, and toothpaste. Food given inmates lacked basic nutritional requirements. Meals did not receive adequate refrigeration and were prepared in areas that “reeked of dead vermin.”
Over Capacity and Understaffed
The jail had the capacity to hold 1,765 inmates, according to the report, but actually held 2,420. Not only was the facility overcrowded, but it was seriously understaffed. Nearly 100 staff vacancies were open.
This is Not a Third-World Country
Cosgrove told Mills that this was the United States, not a third-world country, but the conditions in his jail fit the latter description. She said he had deprived inmates of running water, food, and physical and mental health screenings. Mills lied to the Cuyahoga County Council about how he tried to block the hiring of nurses in 2017. “What you have done is unthinkable,” she said.
During the trial, Ohio jail inspector Joel Commins testified that he had inspected Cuyahoga County Jail since 1999. In 2018, he said jail conditions “deteriorated dramatically.” Commins described people sleeping on the floor, broken toilets, showers that didn’t work.
Commins also testified that he had disputes with Mills over the practice of red-zoning. This refers to keeping inmates in their cells for prolonged periods due to lack of staffing. Inmates might not leave their cells for 27 hours or more.
Indifference to Human Life
An attorney for several former inmates suing the county said Mills created a culture in the jail of indifference to human life. A lawyer representing the Ohio Patrolman’s Benevolent Association, the corrections officers’ union, said there was a long way to go in undoing the damage Mills caused to the county jail. He said he hoped the sentence serves as a deterrent to current and future Cuyahoga County jail administrators and wardens.
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