VALPARAISO | The American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana has added to the pressure to relieve overcrowding at the county jail by concluding after a recent tour it is "inexcusable" the county has not made use of the entire facility.
The failure by the county to address the overcrowding amounts to a constitutional violation and places the county at risk for litigation it will lose, ACLU attorney Kenneth Falk wrote in a letter to Elizabeth Knight, attorney for Porter County.
Falk said he notified the Indiana Department of Correction about the overcrowding problem and points out if the DOC determines standards are not being met, it shall contact the county in writing with recommended cures. If the county fails to make a good faith effort within six months, the DOC may seek either court action restricting use of the jail or an examination of the facility by a grand jury.
The county sheriff is also empowered by state code to take court action against the county commissioners or council if the DOC determines standards are not being met, Falk said.
"I am aware of at least one sheriff who has utilized this provision to sue his Commissioners," he wrote.
Porter County Sheriff Dave Lain said he was not surprised by the ACLU's conclusions.
"He (Falk) said what I've been saying all along," Lain said.
The ACLU letter echoes concerns raised by the National Institute of Corrections last fall and the DOC in July, Porter County Commissioner President John Evans, R-North, said in an Aug. 15 letter to the Porter County Council.
Lain said is seeking 11 new jail officers in next year's budget, nine of which he said are needed to staff the opening of the third pod at the jail.
Porter County Councilman Jim Biggs, R-1st, who serves as one of the council's liaisons to the jail and sheriff's department, said while he does not understand how the county wound up in this position, he is prepared to support the spending necessary to open the third pod.
Biggs said county income tax revenue should be tapped for the costs since those funds are reoccurring, unlike the proceeds from the sale of the county hospital.
Along with the opening of the third pod, he also wants to see more alternatives pursued to sending people to jail.
"The answer is not having a larger jail," Biggs said.
Evans, who explained in a letter to the County Council that the July 30 ACLU tour of the jail was the result of complaints from inmates, suggests the overcrowding problem be turned over to the same committee that recently hashed out costly solutions for medical needs at the jail.