top of page

Statement on the death of José Irizarry (March 2, 2021)

Cuyahoga County Jail Coalition statement on the death of José Irizarry

Systemic violence and mismanagement of Cuyahoga County Jail to Blame for the Presumed Death


Cleveland, OH, March 2, 2021


The Cuyahoga County Jail Coalition releases the following statement on the presumed death of José Irizarry:


The Cuyahoga County Jail Coalition condemns the County Jail for its culpability in the disappearance and presumed death of Jose Irizarry, 40. Irizarry was a member of our Cleveland community who had a family who loved him, a sister who was waiting for his call. He also lived with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, and serious trauma from his time in another facility, Belmont Correctional. Yet on the night of November 12, 2020, Irizarry was released without a phone call or a winter coat, only a dead cellphone and an ankle monitor, and in an incoherent state from his new medication. He disappeared that night, presumed drowned. Why did this happen?


At the County Jail, Irizarry was in lockdown for long periods (a practice that meets the United Nations definition of torture). His medication had been altered, and he had little-to-no access to mental health treatment, despite dealing with severe trauma and suicidal thoughts. He was a man who needed help, in a system that believes in offering none.


The Cuyahoga County Jail has been called “one of the worst in the country” by a U.S. Marshals jail review team, and has a well-documented track record of inhumane treatment of inmates with mental illness, with grossly inadequate access to mental health care and medication.


This tragic death is yet another result of a jail that treats its inmates as less than human. While the County Jail will try to wash itself of responsibility for Irizarry’s passing by saying he had left their custody, make no mistake: it is the policies and conditions within the jail that led to his terrible and preventable death.


This is another mark among many against the Cuyahoga County Jail, an institution charged with protecting those in its custody. It is also a grave reminder that beyond the 13 documented in-custody deaths of inmates in the Jail since 2018 are perhaps innumerable other deaths left unaccounted for and without justice being served. Each life lost is a preventable tragedy, a wound on our communities, and a trauma for grieving families. It has to stop!


The Cuyahoga County Jail must be held accountable for Irizarry’s passing. There should have been protocols in place to ensure Irizarry's well-being upon release. We also know that the Jail must be radically altered to ensure no other family will go through this pain.

The Cuyahoga County Jail Coalition advocates for the criminal justice system to move away from unnecessary, harmful mass incarceration and towards a "Care First, Jails Last" model that centers community-based systems of care, mental health and addiction treatment, pretrial release and diversion services, and other alternatives to incarceration.


We call on our communities, local organizations, and elected officials to join us in conversation and embrace this vision in honor of all the lives taken too soon, and the lives of those still with us today suffering the inhumanity of the County Jail.


The hearts of all of us in the Coalition are with José Irizarry's family, in mourning and in the desire to see accountability and change in Cuyahoga County.

 Cuyahoga County 

bottom of page