Inmate, ACLU sue over jail

Citing "unconstitutional and unlawful conditions" at the Monroe County Jail, the ACLU has taken up the case of a current inmate suing Sheriff Jim Kennedy and the Monroe County commissioners over jail conditions.

Inmate Trevor Richardson is being represented by attorney Ken Falk of the ACLU. Falk filed the suit Wednesday in the U.S. District Court's Southern District of Indiana.

Richardson claims the jail is overcrowded to the point that he and other inmates have had to sleep in the jail's gymnasium, where there is no bathroom or shower. Prisoners have little to no recreational opportunities, meals are "frequently served cold" and fights have broken out over bed space.

Richardson's suit alleges the county has known about the overcrowding problem but has failed to take corrective action, putting him and other inmates at risk.

On the day after Christmas last year, Richardson filed a hand-written grievance with jail officers.

"I have been in jail here for 129 days and have been consistently subject to inhumane, unsanitary, and harsh living conditions,"; Richardson wrote. "I was made to sleep on the floor for close to four months before I received a cell, and their (sic) are still people sleeping on the floor."

Kennedy said he reviewed the complaint Thursday morning, but declined to comment on the pending litigation.

"It's in the hands of our attorneys," Kennedy said.

County commissioners president Pat Stoffers said he'd heard of the suit, but hadn't yet seen it and wouldn't comment until he had.

Falk said a similar suit was filed by a Monroe County inmate several years ago, but dismissed on a procedural issue.

"The jail has a long history of being overcrowded," Falk said Thursday. "Everyone there knows the jail is overcrowded, and this suit is an attempt to change the conditions."

Kennedy and Jail Commander Bill Wilson don't disagree with that, and neither does the Indiana Department of Correction, which gave the jail an overall positive report last summer, though inspectors did note that some state codes weren't being adhered to when the jail was over capacity.

Though Richardson is the only inmate identified in the suit, it is filed on behalf of "any and all persons currently confined, or who will in the future be confined" at the jail.

Kennedy last year proposed sweeping changes to the jail that would get most of the inmates off of the jail floor and into bunks. Work on that project is expected to begin this month. The average jail population fluctuated from 246 to 296 inmates in 2007. Its official capacity is about 200.

Falk said he talked with a number of current inmates before filing the suit.

"They didn't think the overcrowding would be addressed by those sort of limited modifications," he said.

County officials have begun considering plans for a new justice campus, which could very well include a new jail facility.

A proposal, endorsed by all of the county commissioners, Kennedy, and the majority of the county council, calls for a new facility to be built at the former RCA/Thomson site, but it could take five years before any facility may open.

In the meantime, Richardson wrote in a grievance to jail officials he'd like to see corrective action taken.

"As of right now, I don't know," he wrote about what kind of specific action he wants. "I would like to see conditions improve, however, it seems like they are getting worse."

The ACLU is seeking attorneys fees and an injunction requiring the county to take "all steps necessary to operate the jail in a manner free of constitutional infirmity."

No hearing date has been set yet in the case.

This article originally appeared on The Herald-Times: Inmate, ACLU sue over jail