When federal judge Damon R. Leichty agreed with the ACLU and Allen County Jail inmates that the county’s overcrowded facility and lack of staff led to inhumane conditions, he seemed to find one aspect particularly disturbing.
Prisoners sleeping next to cell toilets
“Prisoners who are forced to sleep on cell floors because of overcrowding will have to be stepped over when cellmates use the toilet and may have their heads close to the toilet,” Leichty wrote in his March 31 opinion. “It is disgusting to sleep with one’s head next to a toilet being used by other persons.”
In cells as small as 9.73 square feet, roughly 10 by 10 feet, where three inmates are forced to sleep in two-person cells, one inmate sleeps on the floor next to the toilet. The cramped conditions are brought on because of the inmate classifications that overcrowd some blocks, Sheriff David Gladieux says.
That wasn’t all Leichty told the defendants – Gladieux, the Allen County Commissioners, and Allen County Council – needed to be changed, some of it in 45 days.
The injunction put the county criminal justice system in a near panic to reduce the population to 732 inmates and make provisions to lower it to 593 – if the current jail is kept standing. The jail population has hovered around 800 inmates for several years, often nearing 900 during the summer.
What to expect at Sunday’s meeting
Sunday at the “Jail Injustices II – A Candid Conversation,” primary candidates running for sheriff, county council and county commissioner have been invited to speak starting at 3 p.m at Calvary United Methodist Church, 6301 Winchester Rd. Hosting the panel is JAVA, or Justice Accountability Victim Advocacy, a grassroots activist group focusing on families dealing with homicide and criminal injustice.
Topics to be discussed include jail cleanliness, addiction, mental health treatment, medication, food and commissary, illegal drugs and treatments of inmates. Of particular interest to the hosts is the contract with Quality Correctional Care, Inc., a for-profit, Carmel-based medical provider currently overseeing all medical treatment for 68 counties in the state and a few in Michigan, according to its website.
“We have a large concern about the conditions, the new expensive jail that’s being proposed, the treatment of the inmates, the $2.5 million contract with (Quality Correctional Care), the medical provider, this doctor that we’re paying $435,000 a year for. I just want to make sure we have opportunity to ask questions and find out, are we being shortchanged or getting what we’re paying for,” said Amy Miller-Davis, a JAVA founder who organized the event.
At the first panel in March, families of inmates spoke of a lack of medical treatment or medical treatment delayed to the point it caused more severe health problems. WANE reached out to Quality Correctional Care through its website and has yet to be contacted for a comment.
Few invited have agreed to appear at panel
As of Friday, few candidates had agreed to appear.
Two primary candidates for sheriff, Republican Mitch McKinney and Democrat Kevin Hunter, will appear, but not Republican candidate Troy Hershberger. Deputy Chief McKinney and Capt. Hunter both serve with the Fort Wayne Police Department. Hershberger is Chief Deputy directly under Gladieux.
Others appearing are Democrat Jorge Fernandez running for commissioner, Curtis Nash, a Democrat, and Cameron Kelley, Republican, for county council, and Sheila Curry-Campbell, a county councilwoman who is not running for re-election.
The county commissioners declined to appear in a letter to JAVA, saying that the commissioners had no ability “to create and implement programs for medical or mental health treatment, substance abuse or other social justice concerns,” and “that it is the sheriff with the authority and obligation to take care of the jail and the prisoners there.”
The commissioners establish and maintain a jail and it’s up to the state court system and the county sheriff regarding inmate treatment, the commissioners maintain. None of the seven county council members, except Curry Campbell, responded to the invitation, JAVA member Stacey Davis said.
Despite objections, judge holds commissioners accountable
Leichty made it clear he held the commissioners and county council accountable to the conditions at the jail. Overcrowding “exacerbates all other problems in the jail environment, including causing delays in food delivery,” and food is “that is supposed to be served hot is served cold,” he said. He is demanding that recreation time increase for inmates to at least three times a week for one hour.
“The existing physical structure of the Allen County Jail prevents the Allen County Sheriff from discharging his duty to care properly for the prisoners housed there,” is another Leichty statement.
Because of the lack of staff, “possession of unlawful drug by prisoners in the jail is widespread and pervasive,” Leichty wrote.
Last fall, Gladieux was given the money by the county council to increase confinement staff from 135 to 145, but Leichty said two different reports called for a staff increase to at least 171 and the other, 227. For years, local sheriffs have asked for the funds to increase staff, Gladieux said.
Each commissioner told WANE Thursday at the County Council meeting that it was up to the sheriff to change the inhumane conditions Leichty spelled out and that it wasn’t really their purview. But Leichty said the commissioners were aware of the jail’s limitation, commissioned the Elevatus study “and still they have not requested appropriate funding to enable this project.”
Richard Beck, Allen County Commissioner, said Thursday that the county will have a plan by mid-May when the 45-day period is up. Therese Brown said the county will produce short-term and long-term plans. They recently moved to hire a construction manager for a proposed $350 million jail complex and passed a resolution allowing themselves to pay for certain expenses relating to a new jail project.
Event will be livestreamed on Facebook
The panel will be livestreamed on Facebook under #JAVA, starting at 3 p.m.