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GCC Calls Out Cuyahoga County on Abuse of Discretionary Youth Bindover

Written by Greater Cleveland Congregations

Hundreds of residents of Cuyahoga County and the City of Cleveland attended a Greater Cleveland Congregations public hearing at Olivet Institutional Baptist Church in Cleveland to listen to compelling information and facts about Cuyahoga County’s overuse of Discretionary Juvenile Bindover, the process of transferring children under age 18 to adult court and, if convicted, sentencing them to adult prison.

“It’s safe to say that many, if not most, residents of Cuyahoga County are unaware or even heard of the word bindover and how it is being used in our County,” says Jesse Oates, Jr., co-chair of the public hearing and member of Antioch Baptist Church. “Only those people who have been impacted by bindover know the horrible consequences for children who are bound over to adult court and possibly to adult prison.”

Leah Winsberg, staff attorney with the Children’s Law Center pointed out the following facts at the public hearing about Discretionary Youth Bindover in Cuyahoga County:

  • Cuyahoga County sends the largest number of Black youth per capita to adult court of any county in Ohio.
  • Less than 30% of Cuyahoga County’s population are persons of color; yet 91% of youth bound over to the adult system in the County are Black or Brown.
  • Cuyahoga County binds over many more youth than similar urban counties. From 2018-2020, its bindover rate was six times higher than Franklin County and four times higher than Hamilton County.

Currently, Cuyahoga County has no policy or plan to reduce bindover. GCC is organizing to change this.

“Young people deserve a bright future, humanity and fairness even when they have made bad choices,” says Ben Sperry, co-chair of the public hearing and member of Fairmount Presbyterian Church. “At the same time, GCC values the tension of this moment: keeping our communities safe while having alternatives for youth who commit violent crimes.”

Said Ronnie Cannon, one of the presenters at the public hearing who spent 19 years in adult prison after being bound over to adult court at age 16, “We talk about giving youth a second chance. According to my experience, we do not even give us a first chance.”

A panel of experts at GCC’s public hearing said that tools exist that are not being used to address serious youth crimes. Effective evidence-based models are cost-effective and result in lower recidivism rates for serious and chronic “youth offenders” compared to conventional treatment/supervision models.

“Putting youth into adult prisons does not lead them on a path for correction or rehabilitation, says GCC’s Oates. “It creates more criminals and costs taxpayers more money.”