Lake County Jail is on good behavior, federal inspectors say

2013-01-22T15:23:00Z 2013-01-22T20:29:07Z Lake County Jail is on good behavior, federal inspectors sayBill Dolan bill.dolan@nwi.com, (219) 662-5328 nwitimes.com
January 22, 2013 3:23 pm  • 

CROWN POINT | The Lake County Jail continues to improve medical and mental health services to inmates and work on remaining deficiencies.

A report made public Tuesday in U.S. District Court said the jail still needs more corrections officers and more space dedicated to housing ill criminal defendants.

Sheriff John Buncich said Tuesday that 18 more corrections officers have been hired and will come into service next month. The jail is now in at least partial compliance with federal standards, he said.

A series of inmate suicides and lawsuits forced county officials in 2010 to sign an agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice to improve the civil rights of inmates by improving health care.

Last year the county hired Dr. William Forgey and his Correctional Health Indiana Inc. staff to direct all medical services for jail inmates under a $3.4 million contract. The contract is in addition to the $12.6 million in routine jail costs to beef up the medical staff.

However, the county went into the red last year, and officials now are borrowing millions and talking about adopting a county income tax to fund ever-increasing jail expenses. The money is needed to fund permanent increases in the jail's corrections and medical staff.

Federal monitors who inspected the jail last summer said in the report that "leadership for the medical program ... is performing well."

However, the shortage of corrections officers to escort inmates from their cells to the medical staff remains a bottleneck in quick response to inmates' medical complaints, according to the report filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Hammond.

Federal authorities wanted the county to hire 68 additional corrections officers but have settled for 30 new men and women to join the 172 corrections officers already employed before the Department of Justice agreement.

The report states the jail doesn't have a real infirmary in which sick inmates can be housed away from the general population and needs more room to ensure privacy during medical screenings. Buncich said the infirmary and new space for screenings are coming later this year.

"It's a work in progress," he said.

It states that while access to health care improved for inmates, the monitor isn't satisfied with Spanish-language paper forms for inmates to request medical services. The report recommends that the county buy a telephonic language interpretive system.

A jail monitor also was critical of a shortage of corrections officers Sept. 5 during a lockdown. It took a special operation response team an hour to respond and inmates were forced into their cells with "pepper balls" — a type of riot response chemical.

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