Nearly an entire cell block at the Allen County Jail sent a letter to The Journal Gazette deploring conditions they say have worsened because of the pandemic, arguing the coronavirus doesn't mean certain rights should be terminated.
The 61 inmates who signed the letter sent in late September say chances at early release have disappeared, cleaning supplies are in too short supply, confinement officers can be brutal and inmates are stuffed into cells built for fewer people.
Sheriff David Gladieux acknowledged the jail is overcrowded, but says there's little he can do about it. Gladieux, Allen County Jail Commander David Butler, and Steve Stone, Allen County Sheriff's Department spokesman, responded to 18 of the allegations described in the handwritten letter. The responses were received in October with more clarifications this month.
The inmates said they understand why everything “came to a halt” March 14 because of coronavirus restrictions. Six months later, however, the situation has not improved and they say some activities could be reinstated with social distancing.
“We've been neglected out of church time, time cuts, not given proper cleaning supplies, watching as the COVID-19 details are being fabricated by the jail and also being mistreated by confinement officers, sometimes to the point of death,” they wrote in their statement.
Time cuts for trusties are given by the sheriff or his designee, not a judge, jail officials said. Only inmates with nonviolent misdemeanor or level 6 felony charges are eligible for trusty time cuts. A jail trusty is given work inside the jail because the inmate is deemed trustworthy. The work allows him or her to work toward shortened jail time.
The sheriff's department said “time cuts have continued unchanged. Cleaning supplies to the cell blocks have been increased and are re-stocked Monday through Friday by building maintenance.”
Because the coronavirus health crisis continues, the jail is “still restricting outside access to the jail to only essential personnel to minimize opportunities of introducing the virus inside the jail. As we have seen in the Indiana Department of Correction and some jails, when the COVID gets into a jail, it is really bad, much like a nursing home. Church services rely on outside volunteers,” the sheriff said.
Inmates also maintain that more inmates could have been approved for trusty positions, but the department response is that right now there are no vacant trusty positions and there is a waiting list. Inmates also say they consider their incarceration as “dead time,” meaning they've lost their right to earn an early release, but the department says “an early release would be an issue for the courts or prosecutor.” Early release may be given for other reasons, not necessarily working as a jail trusty. Early release could be used to relieve overcrowding, Stone said.
Jail officials consider “dead time” inmate lingo.
Jail overcrowding, the inmates say, stems from a lack of prison transits where the Indiana Department of Correction transports an inmate to a state prison. The department said the jail has been making “weekly transports to the prisons and sending the maximum allowable number of inmates.”
Inmates worry about becoming infected with the coronavirus because they are not allowed to wear masks and they say the guards don't wear them either, “so, the guards come in and out of the jail without any safety precautions, risking the health of every inmate ordered to be here.”
Jail officials say officers and inmates in quarantine areas wear masks as well as when they leave the building for court or medical transports. Officers are screened daily before entering and are not permitted inside if they are symptomatic or have a symptomatic person in their household.
The inmates don't believe any coronavirus testing has been done. “All they do is check inmates for a high temperature,” they stated.
Jail officials said that since April, 43 confinement officers and 20 inmates have been tested and all inmate tests were negative. Twelve confinement officers tested positive and were quarantined.
Per guidelines from the Allen County Department of Health, an inmate must have a fever above 100.5 degrees, have shortness of breath, and have a cough to be reported to the department of health, which determines whether a test is warranted.
When inmates are booked into the jail, they are quarantined two weeks. Inmates say the two-week quarantine means “you are locked in a cell 24 hours a day with two complete strangers that could have the virus.” Jail officials say there are not enough cells to quarantine inmates alone.
“They are housed together based on date of intake and are monitored daily by the nursing department,” jail officials say.
In response to the pandemic, the 61 inmates said the two free phone calls offered and publicized as an “act of kindness,” stopped after a few weeks. Jail officials said family members are now given one free video visitation per week.
Inmates say they are allowed two showers a week, “if the guards feel like it.” Jail officials say the general population can shower daily.
“Quarantine inmates are offered showers in compliance with Indiana administrative code, which requires inmates to be allowed to shower at least three times per week. Showers are conducted on Saturday, Sunday and Wednesday.”
Inmates also said they “are treated like animals by most of these confinement officers. They often 1) curse at us 2) make us sit on dirty concrete floors and 3) cram us into close spaces with other inmates.” Jail officials say this is false. If inmates have a complaint, they are allowed to make a written complaint that is taken by a block officer to the jail commander.
During medical emergencies, inmates say confinement officers ignore the buzzers installed in every cell. The speakers allow inmates to speak with guards through a two-way speaker.
“The speakers are ignored all day, every day, resulting in the suicide of an inmate on Sept. 2,” the letter alleged. Jail officials said that is not true.
In the case of the hanging of Jonathan Fry, 40, on Sept. 2, inmates wrote that “every inmate was hitting their emergency buttons, but they continued to go unanswered as usual.” The inmate was attempting to commit suicide by hanging himself. “The man could have been saved,” they said, and “the jail is keeping it quiet.”
Jail officials said they could “not comment directly regarding an active investigation, but in statements from inmate witnesses, the actions of responding officers and medical providers were 'heroic.'” The sheriff said the jail does not keep a log of how many times the confinement officers are called.
The Allen County coroner's office said Allen County Jail has one to two suicides per year. Fry was taken from the jail to a hospital Sept. 2 and was declared dead Sept. 4, according to the coroner's report. He died from asphyxiation from hanging.
On Oct. 29, Michael Leask, 53, died from asphyxiation the same day he ran away from a work detail. Jail officials said he'd been placed in a cell while an observation cell was being prepared for him and when officers went back to move Leask, he was found unresponsive and taken to a hospital where he died.
If an inmate is considered suicidal, the jail places that inmate in a suicide cell, Stone said. The inmate must be checked at regular intervals, usually every 15 minutes, and guards sign off on a check sheet posted on the front of the cell door. Cameras also monitor these inmates, he added.
Inmates blame problems on what they see as overpopulation. “There are three men to every cell built for two men, with one man on the floor. In the cells built for six men, there are eight men, with two on the floor,” they wrote. As of Friday, the jail population was 783; the jail was built to accommodate 741 inmates. Since March 14, the jail population has fluctuated between 581 and 830 inmates.
Inmates also say they “can't speak up about our rights or guards get mad. If guards get mad, we get mistreated even worse. They refuse to give us our commissary that we've paid for and lock us in our cells for 24-hour intervals. Jail officials deny that. “Inmates can be locked down in their cells for 24 hours for disrupting jail operations or other minor inmate rule violations. Every occurrence of this is documented in reports.”
Inmates noticed that commissary prices have continued to rise since the loss of the sheriff's work release program. Jail officials acknowledged there have been some price increases, but say they are due “to supply shortages from vendors and vendor price increases.”
In addition, clothes sold through the commissary that can only be worn inside the cells present a contradiction when “we can only wear the commissary clothes inside of our cells and they lock us out of our cells all day every day,” the inmates say.
Jail officials said that inmates must wear the jail-issued uniform when outside their cell. Clothing sold on commissary is intended to be worn inside their cell or under their uniform when outside their cell.
“The health and safety of all persons in the Allen County Jail (inmates and employees) has always been a top priority and will continue to be so,” jail officials wrote in their response. “Jail staff is continually evaluating ways to improve conditions in the jail and, if the need arises to modify any of the procedures, we will consider everything. The current public health crisis has adversely affected everyone in our community and not many places more so than the Allen County Jail.”
as of Nov. 19
Total population: 796 (jail was built to accommodate 741)
Male offenders: 676
Female offenders: 120
Pre-trial felony offenders: 250
Pre-trial misdemeanor offenders: 29
Sentenced misdemeanor offenders: 42
Offenders on court-ordered return: 19
Offenders waiting for prison transit: 29
Level 6 felony offenders: 79 (number can be as high as 135)
Offenders on parole violation 19
Offenders on probation violation: 164
Offenders on Circuit Court violation: 17
Offenders on Community Corrections violation: 24
Federal holds – U.S. Marshal 58
Contempt of court offenders: 5
Fugitive holds: 3
Held for other counties: 3
Offenders in Allen County Lock-Up: 24
Source: Allen County Sheriff's Department