FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) – The plaintiffs in a class action lawsuit against the Allen County Sheriff called county officials’ recently released plans to fix overcrowding problems at the jail “deficient.”
In a new U.S. District Court filing, lawyers for the plaintiffs wrote that the plans for the future of the Allen County Jail did not meet the requirements imposed by the judge overseeing the case and “fails to do so in so many respects
Lawyers for the plaintiffs’ noted several facets of the county’s plan that they believe need to be addressed with more immediacy or clarity:
- Long-term construction plans for the jail are not specific enough
- A staffing “crisis” is not properly addressed and many more positions than the county’s plan calls for are needed
- There are concerns with a recreation schedule that is to be implemented in June
- More steps taken with judges and prosecutors in addressing the jail population need to be outlined
They are demanding more articulate answers at a hearing on June 16, according to the filing.
“The Court found that prisoners at the Allen County Jail are suffering continuing denials of their constitutional rights,” the plaintiffs’ new filing said. “This is not a theoretical deprivation. They are being denied a safe environment and are subject to well-documented harm.”
“The defendants have not met the narrowly drawn prospective relief and need to take steps to do so.”
Previously in March, Judge Damon Leichty ruled that jail conditions violate the 8th and 14th amendments outlawing cruel and unusual punishment. He gave county officials 45 days to submit a plan outlining how they will address those conditions.
That plan, released last week, called for a population cap of 731 inmates at the jail as well as much needed construction.
A new facility will likely be built, but adding on to the existing jail was not ruled out.
In short, the plan said officials were considering both options, which seems to be at the crux of many of the issues the plaintiffs took with the county’s overall plan.
A lot of tentativeness is built into how officials plan to remedy the situation, according to the plaintiffs’ filing, noting that new officeholders will be taking seats in the future. That language, lawyers for the plaintiff argue in their filing, almost seems to give future officeholders leeway to undo later anything the county does now.
The county plan talked in vague terms where the judge demanded specifics, lawyers for the plaintiffs siad.
“As an initial matter, defendants have couched their proposed solutions as purely tentative, as they ‘continue to be subject to modification by new office holders,'” the plaintiffs’ new filing said. “This is not satisfactory and suggests a lack of understanding of a permanent injunction.”
If construction were to take place, the county plan does not state where inmates would be housed during that construction. There is also a lack of specifics on how many beds a new or expanded facility would have, according to the plaintiff’s new filing.
The plaintiffs’ new filing also calls into question some of the short-term remedies noted in the county’s plan.
Despite a contract cancelled with the U.S. Marshals to house federal inmates, federal inmates are still being kept at the jail, according to the new filing, which included weekly jail population numbers. Those population numbers continue to hover in the 750 to 790 range, according to court documents.
And while the county plans call for some inmates to be transferred to LaGrange County – as per an agreement with officials there – when the population swells, there is no guarantee LaGrange will always have room for those inmates, lawyers for the plaintiff wrote.
As far as staffing, the county’s plan said the current 123 guards are adequate to handle the jail’s current conditions though there is room for 21 more guards. County officials also said they were aggressively recruiting to fill those positions.
The plaintiffs’ filing, though, calls those numbers woefully short, and that at least 201 positions need to be available to handle conditions at the jail. That filing also says county officials are not doing enough to recruit people to work at the jail.
They submitted an outline of what Vigo County, which has a population about 1/5th of Allen County, did to aggressively court people to work at a new jail opening there this summer, which included raising the pay by $2 an hour, according to court documents.
While the county plan calls for the sheriff to contact judges and prosecutors once the population goes over 731, and ask if some inmates can be released, the new filing said more steps need to be taken. The sheriff and commissioners should be reaching out to those judges and prosecutors more, and be more specific on how they plan to include them into the loop on what’s happening at the jail.
If those issues are not addressed, lawyers for the plaintiffs plan to ask for damages.
“If defendants are unwilling to do so, plaintiffs reserve the right to seek contempt remedies and to request prisoner release,” their new filing said.