FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) – A U.S. District Court judge has sided with inmates in a class action lawsuit that claimed the Allen County Jail is “chronically and seriously overcrowded” and violates the 8th and 14th amendments outlawing cruel and unusual punishment.
Judge Damon R. Leichty on Thursday ordered that the Allen County Sheriff and the Allen County Board of Commissioners need to make immediate changes at the jail due to the “irreparable harm” done to inmates.
In ruling a permanent injunction against the sheriff and commissioners, Leichty detailed a jail overwhelmed with too many inmates and an inadequate staff ill-equipped to handle emergencies, fights or contraband being funneled into the facility.
He also ruled the plaintiffs are entitled to their costs and reasonable attorney fees.
Allen County Sheriff David Gladieux issued a statement in reaction to the announcement:
“We are in receipt of the judge’s orders today. These orders are stipulations regarding policies and procedures that we need to adhere to until we can get a new jail that is more accommodating to today’s environment,” Gladieux said..
“We will provide the ACLU with information such as keeping track of our number of inmates and number of employees on a monthly or weekly basis. We will also continue to offer physical exercise and recreation, outside weather permitting. We will also provide information on assaults whether those be inmate on inmate assaults or inmates on guards. We will do the best with the orders we received today. We haven’t had a chance to sit down with our team and attorneys. I am suggesting we sit down with the ACLU attorneys to agree on an acceptable plan. I have no issue with sitting down with those attorneys at this point,” Gladieux said.
The class action lawsuit was filed by Vincent Morris, at one point an inmate, in 2020. The suit was filed on Morris’ own behalf as well as the current and future inmates of the jail against the sheriff’s office.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana provided legal counsel for Morris.
When reached for comment on Thursday’s decision, Sheriff David Gladieux released this statement:
“Pending further litigation, the department will defer to the county attorney, assigned to the case, Spencer Feighner.”
The suit alleged the jail operates at well beyond 100% capacity, which is 741 beds. It also said many cells have extra beds laid on the floor called “boats” which increase violence and unrest.
Paired with the allegations that security is lax inside certain cell blocks and recreational time is limited, the suit claimed safety of inmates is often at risk.
In his ruling, Judge Leichty found that the jail’s lack of staffing caused daily deficiencies in controlling inmate behavior, observing prisoners, handling emergency backup and regulating prisoner movement and controlling inmate contraband.
The lack of staffing also caused deficiencies in providing recreation and crated problems in providing staff with training, Leichty wrote.
“In 2020, the jail recorded 40 prisoners being taken to the hospital because of violence between prisoners, with more being treated in the jail without hospitalizations,” Leichty wrote in court documents.
Staff could not react to fights quickly. Sometimes command staff never knew about the violence that took place inside, according to court documents.
“There is a direct correlation between the provision of recreation and the reduction of violence among prisoners,” Leichty wrote. “Because of overcrowding, vigorous physical exercise is not possible in the day room areas in the cell blocks of the Allen County Jail.”
Jail staff had problems responding to emergencies, as well, according to court documents. Inmates have had to kick or bang on doors in order to get someone’s attention when something goes wrong, according to Leichty’s order.
Even prisoners in the “minority of cells that do have call buttons may not receive a prompt response when they press on call buttons,” Leicthy said in his ruling.
According to his ruling, the sheriff and commissioners have 45 days to find sufficient staffing at the jail, provide a safe environment and ensure all prisoners have access to recreation outside their cell blocks for at least five one-hour periods throughout the week.
Any long-term plan, such as the construction of a new facility, must also address overcrowding, lack of prisoner supervision and prisoner-on-prisoner violence, according to court documents.
A new hearing is scheduled for June 16, in which any short-term and long-term steps are expected to be reviewed by the court.