CROWN POINT | Sheriff John Buncich said the feds have his back in a dispute with council finance officials over $400,000 of additional health care services for inmates in his work-release center.
The sheriff asked the Lake County Board of Commissioners on Wednesday to increase his department's medical budget to $4.2 million from $3.8 million to cover medicine and other care for 125 people confined in the minimum-security housing.
Buncich said it's needed to comply with U.S. Department of Justice demands for improved conditions within the work-release center and the Lake County Jail, which currently houses about 700 inmates.
Commissioners said they wouldn't approve until they receive a letter from the Justice Department confirming the sheriff's contention the agreement over health care covers the work-release center and the jail.
The sheriff said Wednesday following their showdown that commissioners received confirmation last week in an email from Deputy U.S. Attorney William Maddox, of the Justice Department, who oversees the county's compliance on inmate care.
Members of the Lake County Council made a similar request earlier this month.
The sheriff released to The Times an email exchange April 8 between Kenneth Ray, a county jail consultant, and Maddox.
Ray wrote, "Lake County requests more clarity with regard to whether the jail work release facility is under the umbrella of the (Department of Justice Stipulated Agreement).
Maddox replied later that day, "Ken, We already decided this issue, didn’t we? It is under the (Department of Justice Stipulated Agreement) and that is why we toured it on one of our tours."
The sheriff said that should clear the air and prompt commissioners to grant the $400,000 increase to Jail Medical Director William Forgey's contract. He provides medical services to inmates.
But County Attorney John Dull said commissioners have one more concern: the sheriff must cut $240,711 elsewhere in his budget to give Forgey more money. The County Council made a similar request.
Buncich has told the council and commissioners to stop stalling and fund medical care for inmates before a federal jail inspection begins late next month.