Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Sheriff Layton Deserves Praise for Closing Privately-Run Women's Jail

A few years ago I had a client, "Gail," a former nurse, who spent some time in Liberty Hall while awaiting trial on a DUI Charge.  Liberty Hall is the women's jail off of Washington Street, run by Community Education Centers. 
Liberty Hall
Gail had severe health problems, including a severe life-threatening ulcer that was dangerously near a bariatric incision in her stomach. (The fact she could kick the smoking habit made that problem worse.)  Gail told me how she arrived from Jail #1 at the start of the weekend and couldn't access her medication until the following Monday because the jail had no medical staff present during the weekend.

Gail said she was often pressed into service dealing with inmates' medical problems because the jail did not have staff available.  This included women who were pregnant and experienced medical problems.  The jail did not have medical care 24/7 even though it housed as many as 250 female inmates.  Guards, lacking any sort of medical training, would distribute prescribed medication, which I understand is not permitted.

The stories Gail told about medical issues at Liberty Hall were shocking.  While in jail, Gail tried writing to Sheriff Frank Anderson about medical problems at Liberty Hall.  Anderson ignored her.  Even when Gail filed a lawsuit about the problems, Sheriff Anderson refused to even so much as order a review on the medical and other problems at Liberty Hall.  That was always the case with Sheriff Anderson.  When it came to the privatized jails in Marion County, he refused to exercise any oversight whatsoever over the private contractors.  While Jail #1, operated directly by the Sheriff, was very well run, the privatized jails in Marion County were rife with problems, problems Sheriff Anderson wasn't interested in addressing as part of his job.

One of the legacies of Sheriff Anderson's hands-off approach to the private jail contractors was the death of Amber Redden who died in February after suffering internal hemorrhaging because of an ectopic pregnancy.   Unlike Anderson, Sheriff Layton quickly swung into action. According to a WRTV report at the time, Sheriff Layton said he lost faith in Liberty Hall:
"I was quite disappointed, and I was upset by the death of this young woman," Layton said.
Staff members talked with an on-call nurse as Redden's health deteriorated before her death, Layton said.
"But those personnel weren't medically trained. They saw one thing and thought it was something else," he said.
Layton said he will assign deputies to the Liberty Hall and Marion County Jail II, another privately run facility.
"I need to put my own people in there … to make sure things are getting done the way I would want them done," Layton said.
Sheriff John Layton
The problems at Liberty Hall and at Jail II, which is run by Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) were repeatedly documented and made known to Sheriff Anderson, who refused to even acknowledge the existence of those complaints. Despite the several inmate deaths and injuries at the private jails, as well as other problems like poor security and inmate trafficking, not once during his eight years in office did Sheriff Anderson conduct any investigation or exercise any real oversight with respect to the facilities.  Under Sheriff Anderson, CCA and CEC were all but given a blank check to run the jails as the private companies saw fit, even if the way those jails were operated violated Indiana and federal law.

Back in March, I applauded the action Sheriff Layton took with respect to the private jails.  (See below link.)

Yesterday it was announced that Liberty Hall would be closing, CEC's five year contract to run the facility having come to an end.  Although not renewing the contract was billed as a cost-cutting move, I have no doubt that the problems with private jail contractors were a consideration of Sheriff Layton's.  In addition to the poor management that CCA and CEC offer, I think the Sheriff recognizes that the claimed taxpayer savings offered by private jail contractors don't stand up when all the costs of these facilities are reviewed.

It is refreshing to see Sheriff Layton taking seriously his oversight responsibility when it comes to these private jails.  My hope is that he is able to end CCA's contract to run Jail #2 early or decides not to renew it when the contract runs out.  The Marion County Sheriff's Department does an excellent job running Jail #1.  Putting Jail #2 under the Sheriff's Department would undoubtedly result in a better run facility with savings to taxpayers.

Unfortunately Gail passed away before seeing the action Sheriff Layton has taken with regard to the private jails, and Liberty Hall in particular.  I am sure she would have been thrilled.

See also:
Tuesday, February 22, 2011,  Another Marion County Jail Death; Will New Sheriff John Layton Investigate Medical Care at Private Jail Facilities and Demand Accountability?

Monday, March 7, 2011, Sheriff John Layton Orders Changes at Privately-Run Jails


marksmall2001 said...

Well-written and sympathetic piece. Good job.

Downtown Indy said...

Privatization: Noun;

A practice whereby the government 'saves money' by handing management and control of what had been government entities to a private corporation whose primary objective is to generate a profit.

indyernie said...

Paul, Layton was in charge of the MCSD when Anderson held the office. Anderson was just the figurehead, Layton ran the show. I'm glad that Layton is taking action but he hardly deserves a pat on the back.

Had Enough Indy? said...

Excellent post, Paul.

One difficulty in terminating the CCA contract has been that the Sheriff's department didn't have enough money to make all the payments for a few years. It was discussed at some length during this year's budget hearing at the Council's Public Safety committee. Last I heard, Councillors Hunter and Vaughn were going to find the money Layton needed to come up to date on the late payments. I lost track if that happened before the end of the year.

At least any snag in terminating the contract due to the money owed could be tossed aside.

And, as you say, good for Layton for overseeing the performance of the contractor.