EDITORIAL: Lake Co. Jail improvements good, but job is unfinished

2013-07-14T00:00:00Z EDITORIAL: Lake Co. Jail improvements good, but job is unfinished nwitimes.com
July 14, 2013 12:00 am

The Lake County Jail deserves praise for commendations it recently received from state corrections officials, but it's no reason for jail officials to rest on their laurels.

Federal oversight by the U.S. Department of Justice — prompted by shoddy sanitary and health conditions at the jail in 2009 — continues, and the jail must continue diligent work to comply with a consent decree pending in U.S. District Court, Hammond.

Still, the jail appears to be heading in the right direction.

The Indiana Department of Correction recently issued a report lauding the Lake County Jail for its improved operations. The state agency issued the report after a June inspection of the 1,013-bed facility that houses 893 inmates.

Particularly encouraging were the words of state jail inspector Kenneth Whipker, who stated, "The cleanliness and operations of this facility continues to improve with each annual inspection. Sheriff (John) Buncich, his staff and county officials are to be commended."

The state report indicates half of all the jail's previous problem areas are now in "substantial or sustained" compliance with federal standards.

It's important to note the state corrections agency holds no final sway over the U.S. Department of Justice inspectors who will make the ultimate call regarding whether the jail has complied with the 2009 decree.

But even on the federal front, there are signs of encouragement.

In May, Buncich reported that federal inspectors had given his jail credit for improvements in the health care for inmates — one of the major points of contention in the 2009 decree. At that time, the federal inspectors said 42 percent of all the problem areas had achieved substantial or sustained compliance.

Lake County officials agreed with the U.S. Department of Justice in 2010 that the jail would correct substandard health care and sanitary conditions for the more than 14,000 men and women who spend time in the jail each year. The county also is spending more than $3 million annually for improved jail services in addition to $12.6 million already allocated to other operations.

The administrators and corrections officers appear to have been performing admirably to address this issue, but they're only about halfway there. It's now time to finish the job.

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