Sunday, October 12, 2008

Lease More Private Jail Space? Thanks, But No Thanks

In today's Indianapolis Star, Jon Murray of the Indianapolis Star reports that Scott Newman, Marion County's Public Safety Director has proposed leasing 200 more beds at a private jail to accommodate the need to combat crime. The idea is that by making bonds higher, more people will remain locked up and thus less likely to commit other crimes.

The running of private jails is something I've become all too familiar with this year. As a conservative Republican, I lean toward locking up the bad guys. But what I've seen regarding how these private jails are run is shocking to the conscience. Nurses escorting dangerous inmates. Numerous cameras and radios in the facility that do not work. Razor blades left out in the open where they can be fashioned into weapons. Inmates not given medical treatment and medication delayed or not given out at all because it's too expensive. People are getting hurt at these private jails; some are dying.

Last Thursday, I met with a woman who lost her husband of almost 20 years. He had a heart condition. The woman desperately told officials at Jail #2 that he needed his heart medicine or he would die. They did not order the medicine for him. Several days later he had a heart attack and died. In another case I have, the inmate died when he was not given his hypertension medicine for nearly a week. A case another attorney has involves an inmate whose pneumonia was not treated at the private jail and he died. At least five people, young men, have died at the one facility in the last two years. In the course of preparing for my cases I have gathered the names of close to 100 inmates who did not get their prescribed medication or medical treatment at Marion County private jails. It should be emphasized that most of these people in jail have not yet been convicted, and are in jail because they can't afford the bond.

While the legal violations at the private jails are numerous, I would point to one in particular that is repeatedly ignored. 210 IAC 3-1-11(k) says that when an inmate comes into an Indiana jail and is receiving medication prescribed by a physician, the jail is to provide that inmate with that medication in the dosage and at the frequency prescribed. The law goes on to say that the jail is not to provide substitutions of medication without the prescribing physician's approval.

Private correctional companies regularly violate this law. They take the position that when you walk into their jail, the private jail's doctor (Jail #2's is not even an M.D.) is the inmate's doctor and it does not matter what was prescribed by another physician. It is because of this reason that these companies often ignore the repeated orders from Marion County criminal court judges to provide an inmate with medication or medical treatment prescribed by outside doctors.

It is extremely common for inmates to go weeks if not months before they start receiving their medication. Often the private jail doctor won't order the inmate's medication at all because it is too expensive, or they will provide a much cheaper substitute that doesn't work as well or at all. At Jail #2, the doctor at the facility ordered a round of medication for the inmates (going from 3 rounds to 2) eliminated because they were "understaffed." Translation: Hiring more people to pass out medication cuts into their profits. The Sheriff's contract though says the private company will fully staff the facility. It's just one of many provisions in the contract that is not enforced.

One should not be surprised that a private company would want to cut corners to make more money. That is why it is up to government officials, in this case primarily Sheriff Frank Anderson, to make certain the private companies are following the law and the contract they signed. To say Sheriff Anderson has completely failed in his job of supervising the private jails is an understatement. No matter what the allegations have been or how well those allegations have been supported, Sheriff Anderson refuses to acknowledge them much less conduct an investigation of the claims. In the past three years he has not even audited Jail #2 despite the fact that there have been numerous deaths and injuries at the facility and the contract gives him sweeping authority to review the procedures of the facility and approve personnel.

During a recent council meeting, I heard Scott Newman make the astounding remark that the private jail vendors follow their contracts. I can't imagine that Newman is oblivious to the plethora of lawsuits filed against the Marion County private jails because of legal and contractual violations. Our small firm by itself has five private jail lawsuits, including a wrongful death case, a inmate class action, and an employee whistleblowing action based primarily on retaliation and intimidation of nurses who attempted to report problems at the facility. It looks like we will soon have another wrongful death case. It should be noted that when the private jails get sued, the Sheriff almost also gets sued for failing to supervise the jails. The taxpayers could well be on the hook for hundreds of thousands of dollars in attorneys fees and damages on many of these lawsuits. While the privatization contracts give the Sheriff the authority to recoup attorney's fees and judgments against the Sheriff because of the actions or negligence of the private jail companies, it is highly doubtful these indemnification provisions have ever been enforced.

It's time for the Public Safety and Criminal Justice Committee of the Indianapolis City-County Council to start asking Sheriff Anderson and others like Scott Newman why they are not looking into the allegations regarding the private jails. Until the safety and medical problems at the Marion County private jails are addressed and county officials properly supervise the facilities, the Council's response to Scott Newman's request for 200 more private jail beds should be a resounding "No."


Patriot Paul said...

I think 1 or 2 members of the county and state government and news media should go in as 'inmates' undercover then later testify about their week's experience. Now that would get national attention.

Leslie Sourwine said...

That's a great idea Patriot Paul but spruce it up a bit. The undercover inmates must have some health problems such as abscessed teeth, high blood pressure or heart and diabetes disease. Secondly, a week is too short. After six months inside CCA (Jail II) denied medical care and medication and your undercover inmates would come out screaming for city government to shut that place down! Seriously a week isn’t long enough. It takes that long to take you through the process of being admitted to the jail. Six months, that should about do it. After shutting down the CCA Facility the next undercover inmates need to go to New Castle Correctional Facility, another private corporation whose reputation and track record matches that of CCA when it comes to medical denials and inmate abuse.

Leslie Sourwine said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Leslie Sourwine said...

Another thing, there is no way city officials do not know the history of Jail II and it's inmate abuse policies. It's amazing that they are thinking of leasing another 200 beds from this company whose interest is clearly profit. I believe in equal opportunity for everyone. Let’s incarcerate CCA CEO John Ferguson who stated in his first quarter profits conference call (Let me reinforce that we provide quality healthcare to our inmates at all times."),