The Journal Gazette
Thursday, January 23, 2020 1:00 am

Inmate's suit assails county jail conditions

Lack of bedding, medical care alleged

JAMIE DUFFY | The Journal Gazette

An Allen County Jail inmate alleges in a lawsuit the jail is overcrowded and doesn't provide enough medical attention, recreation and oversight by confinement officers.

Vincent Morris filed the suit on behalf of himself and other inmates Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Fort Wayne. The sheriff and county commissioners, whose duty the lawsuit says is to “establish and maintain a ... county jail ... keeping it in good repair,” were named as defendants.

Both parties were given 60 days to respond to the complaint.

Attorneys Kenneth Falk of the ACLU in Indiana and Samuel Bolinger of Fort Wayne signed Morris' petition.

Allen Superior Court Judge David Zent ordered Morris on Wednesday to serve nine years of a 13-year sentence in prison for armed robbery, which Morris pleaded guilty to. He had been in jail since March 18, the suit said.

Morris said overcrowding forces some inmates to sleep on the floor in plastic platforms inmates call “boats.” Inmates sleeping on the floor are often positioned close to the toilets and endure people stepping over them, the lawsuit stated.

There is a lack of recreation – some prisoners get one hour a week outside – and fights and disagreements break out, the suit says.

Additionally, prisoners are locked in their cells for the evening and much of the day and there is “simply insufficient room in the cells when they have someone sleeping on the floor,” the suit says.

“Recreation outside of the cell area is necessary so prisoners can 'blow off steam' and minimize the tension that can, and frequently does, lead to violence,” the suit states.

Jail officers are unable to properly classify prisoners because of overcrowding, so mentally ill inmates are housed with the general jail population as are violent offenders, the suit stated. 

There have been at least four suicides at the jail since 2011, it said.

Morris filed grievances to challenge jail conditions, according to the lawsuit. Falk and Bolinger stated Morris has exhausted the grievance program because there was no resolution to his grievances, nor was there any appeal procedure.

The jail was built to house 741 inmates but often has more than 800, the lawsuit said. According to a 2018 report by the Indiana Criminal Justice Institute, three-fourths of the state's county jails are at or beyond capacity.

Morris and his attorneys argue the conditions violate the 14th and Eighth amendments to the U.S. Constitution. 

One of the suit's conditions is to require the sheriff and county commissioners “to take all steps necessary to ensure that the conditions of confinement at the Allen County Jail comply with the U.S. Constitution.”

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