EDITORIAL: Keep improving conditions at county jails

2013-12-29T00:00:00Z EDITORIAL: Keep improving conditions at county jails nwitimes.com
December 29, 2013 12:00 am  • 

The Lake County Jail is moving closer to getting out from under the federal consent decree that required changes at the jail.

"We are starting to become a model for other counties," Lake County Sheriff John Buncich said after a recent visit by federal jail monitors.

Those monitors found the jail in sustained compliance for the past year on 27 of 99 previously cited deficiencies in inmate treatment and in the jail environment.

Buncich said county attorneys and the U.S. Justice Department will ask a federal judge in January to rule that the jail no longer needs federal oversight of those 27 key areas, including screening inmates for mental health problems, monitoring suicide risks, improved fire safety, pest control, food service, medical care, sanitation and reduction in use of unnecessary force.

Attaining compliance on these key measures means progress, not the attainment of the final goal. Federal inspections will continue.

Reaching this point hasn't been cheap, either.

Four years ago, the Justice Department cited the jail for systematically denying medical and mental health care to inmates. That brought about a federal consent decree that has proven costly for Lake County.

The improvements made so far have meant spending more than $8 million in the last two years and a projected $5.5 million for inmate health care in 2014.

It is important to keep improving conditions at the jail so federal intervention won't be needed in the future.

And in Porter County, consider this a lesson.

Porter County has finally begun to follow up on Sheriff David Lain's persistent advice to ease crowding at the jail by adding staff.

Seeing what the federal consent decree has wrought in Lake County, and realizing it could happen in Porter County as well, finally convinced the County Council this year to increase the number of jailers.

Keep improving conditions at the Porter County Jail, too. As Buncich and other Lake County officials can attest, it's better to make the necessary changes before the federal government forces the county to act.

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