How One Rural Indiana Jail Deals with Its “Exploding”Female Population

With growing numbers of women incarcerated around the country, some local authorities are developing innovative programs to help ensure they never return once they’re released. Floyd County in southern Indiana opened a jail-based counseling unit this year that appears to hold promise.

Is there a better way to address the growing numbers of women who find themselves in jail?

One southern Indiana county has developed a program aimed at helping women—including those who have recidivated—gain the tools, skills and confidence to make their current stay behind bars the last one.

The program is the brainchild of Floyd County Sheriff Lt. Brett O’Loughlin and Michelle Cochran, a mental health worker contracted by the jail.

At the beginning of this year, the jail opened a separate block with room for 16 inmates who are committed to focusing on themselves, addressing their addiction issues, and supporting one another in their growth.

And some of the women inmates say it has already put them in the right direction.

“It teaches you how to change your thinking, which is where we all mess up,” said Heather Goff, who’s been in the Floyd County jail for almost a year and a half, and in the program for eight months.

“I was sober for nine years. Since I’ve been locked up, I’ve had time to reflect on where I went wrong and recognize how not to do it again.”

According to Cochran, the recent increase in the number of women in Floyd County jail — largely due to drug issues or drug-related crimes — makes it more important than ever to develop and maintain meaningful programming for them.

“So we started putting it together building a curriculum [with] evidence-based practice,” Cochran said.

The jail has recently been awarded a grant to expand the program to men; she said they started with the women because “that population seemed to explode in a very short amount of time.”

The women in the “program dorm” are given more freedoms and responsibility than those in the general block, and have access to more programming — like specialized classes and yoga.

Coordinators work with them to help hone in on the personal life issues that led to their brush with the law, and to help cut recidivism.

According to Lt. O’Loughlin, programs in other jails around the country are often limited to basics: 12-step program meetings or faith-based programs. While those can be useful, he said, they can lack the more personal focus the new Floyd County program offers.

“Every facility has some type of program, but it ends up being they try to cram everybody into that one-size-fits all,” he said. “They’re just spinning their wheels and the same people keep coming back.

“[This program is] not going to be a one-size-fits all. We’re going to throw everything we can at it and see what sticks.”

Each week, the women draw lots to see which jobs they’ll have for the week — they could serve as a mediator to help sort out interpersonal issues among the inmates, or they could facilitate weekly programming, enforce chores getting done or keep track of records within the program.

“This program means a lot to me because this is the first time that I’m addressing that I have a problem and I am an addict,” Mercedes Hall said. “And that means a lot to … my family. This is the first time in my life I’ve actually had structure and consistency.”

In Floyd County, the average daily female population has nearly doubled between 2007 and 2017 to 59 from 35, a rise that local law enforcement authorities attribute to the drug crisis that’s shaken Southern Indiana in the past several years.

The growth of the male inmate population has been more steady during that time in Floyd County.

Nearby Clark County law enforcement officials have seen similar growth, rising to an average daily female population of 131 in 2017, up from 56 in 2007.

Clark County Sheriff Jamey Noel says the growth in numbers comes with challenges to spacing and increased health costs associated with women. On a recent day in Clark County, there were eight pregnant women in jail.

In 2016, Clark County initiated three new programs targeted specifically to address the needs of the growing female population.

A 12-week writing workshop, taught by local freelance journalist Amanda Beam, is designed to help women express themselves through written words. There is a separate group for women who are victims of physical, mental or sexual abuse, to help pave the way for them to become empowered survivors.

There’s also a pregnancy class for women who are, or believe they may be, pregnant.

“The more tools you can give an inmate, especially a female inmate, hopefully [means] they won’t return to jail and that’s what’s best for the family,” Noel said.


Floyd County Sheriff Frank Loop says a new jail program started this year specifically for women gives them the chance to break through the old thought patterns and habits, to help prevent them from returning to jail. Photo by Aprile Rickert, News and Tribune .

In Floyd County, nearly all of the women in the program said they have been incarcerated multiple times, and most are currently in for drug-related charges.

“Even if their charge isn’t a drug charge, it’s usually drug-related,” program member Goff said. “Whatever they’ve done, it was to get drugs.”

Floyd County Sheriff Frank Loop said the program can change the course of a woman’s life — to keep her from falling into the old ways before jail.

Often, they end up in jail again soon because “they go back to the same environment they had,” Loop said. “The same friends, because they don’t know anything else.”

Cassidy Miller’s story lines up with this.

Miller, who has been in jail multiple times, admitted she intentionally courted arrest because she knew she needed a change from the life she was living on the outside.

“I was doing everything right on the outside [but] everything was still screwing up,” she said. “I was very, very tired, and I knew I wanted something different.

“We’re all just tired of that life. We want something different and this is the first step to that.”

While some jail opportunities, like receiving a GED or other certifications can mean credit off of their sentence, this is not the case with the new Floyd County program.

Cochran, the mental health worker, said this helps ensure that everyone in the program is there because they want to be, and because they’re committed to doing the work.

Because the women are housed in a separate dorm, they’re not around the negative influences of others in jail who aren’t ready or don’t wish to try to change, Cochran said.

The program effectively begins as soon as the women enter the dedicated block.

“[We ask] ‘what are your goals, what are you going to do different, where are you going to be that’s safe when you leave here,'” she said.

Program participant Miller said living in the dorm creates a sense of solidarity and mutual concern among the inmates.

“In here, we call each other on our B.S.,” she said. “Or if we’re thinking something wrong or we’re down on ourselves, we check ourselves and each other because we care enough to see everybody do well.”

Another inmate, Joanie Watson, recently received a certificate for completing a class that she helped show her that progress was possible.

“It’s a confidence boost, even doing your homework is a sense of accomplishment,” she said. “Something little you accomplished and something bigger and it just builds up.”

But the hardest challenge may come when the inmates are released.

The county Sheriff’s Department and staff say they are working to increase partnerships with community organizations who will be available for continued post-incarceration health and addiction care.

“That’s how we’re going to prevent recidivism,” Cochran said.

Aprile Ricket

Aprile Rickert

“That’s how we’re going to keep them clean, keep them sober and keep them medicated.”

Aprile Rickert, a crime and courts reporter at the News and Tribune, is a 2018 John Jay Justice Reporting Fellow. This is a condensed and slightly edited version of a story published in the News and Tribune as part of her Fellowship project. Follow Aprile on Twitter: @Aperoll27. Readers’ comments are welcome.


#MeToo Behind Bars: Do the Feds Ignore Prison Sexual Assaults?

Under the Prison Rape Elimination Act, federal investigators must conduct audits of prison facilities to monitor compliance with standards aimed at eliminating sexual abuse. But an investigation by WitnessLA suggests the audits leave a lot to be desired.

In May, the Department of Justice launched a federal civil rights investigation into sexual misconduct by officers at New Jersey’s Edna Mahan Correctional Facility. It was the fourth such formal inquiry since 2016.

Since 2015, at least 11 lawsuits, including two class-action suits, have been filed against seven former Edna Mahan employees alleging they engaged in criminal sexual abuse of inmates.

Yet two separate audits by federal investigators during the years that inmates allege they were being sexually assaulted and abused found the facility to be in compliance with standards established under the 2003 Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA). .

Their conclusions seemed to contradict a troubling pattern of allegations of misbehavior at the New Jersey facility.

In a civil lawsuit filed December 20, 2017, an inmate named Janean Owens alleged that since her arrival in 2009, she was sexually harassed and assaulted by multiple prison employees, six of whom she named in the complaint.

According to Owens, she was forced to give and receive oral sex, groped, and constantly stared at.

“I’m gonna tear you up,” one former corrections officer reportedly told her.

“I want to hit that,” another said repeatedly, according to the complaint.

When Owens complained to prison administrators, the officers retaliated. She was once kept in a television room for 12 hours without access to a bathroom, where she finally resorted to urinating on the floor, she said.

Officers glared at her menacingly, the complaint stated, and put her “in reasonable apprehension and fear of further assault and battery.”

The problem of sexual assault in jail has never been taken as seriously as the problem of sexual assault outside.

Everyone from superstar comedy duo Key and Peele to former FBI director James Comey have publicly enjoyed “prison rape” jokes in the last few years.

That was supposed to change 15 years ago with the passage of PREA by Congress in 2003, which led to the creation of a set of standards designed to “prevent, detect, and respond to sexual abuse in confinement facilities.”

As an incentive for states to comply with PREA, failure to do so can result in losing out on millions of dollars in federal grants, as happened in Utah. To ensure that those standards are being met, each detention facility covered under PREA must undergo a several days-long inspection by a certified PREA auditor every three years. Based on their initial findings auditors create a preliminary report, which includes a corrective action plan when necessary.

After 180 days, during which the facility is meant to make the prescribed changes, auditors return to do a final audit.

These final reports, unlike the preliminary audits and corrective action plans, are public record.

The ‘Rubber Stamp’ Factor

 In July, 2014 the Department of Justice sent auditor Ed Motley to determine how fully the Edna Mahan facility was in compliance with PREA standards. Two years later, in October, 2016, auditor William Willingham visited a second time.

Both auditors reported Edna Mahan was in full compliance. In one category–training staff in PREA awareness–Willingham reported that the facility exceeded what was required.

Willingham noted the presence of 90 cameras in the facility and wrote that there were no “blind spots” that the cameras failed to cover.

The claim of no blind spots was particularly perplexing since prison staff would later testify in the spring 2018 criminal trial of another Edna Mahan colleague that some units, such as the facility’s minimum security housing unit in which some reported assaults took place, had no cameras at all.

Willingham’ described “the facility staff” as “extremely courteous, cooperative and professional. Staff morale appeared to be good and the observed staff/inmate relationships were seen as appropriate…” he wrote.

At the conclusion of the audit, Willingham thanked the administrator and staff “for their hard work and dedication to the PREA audit process.”

These passages and others appear nearly verbatim in at least 12 other audits of facilities Willingham conducted between 2015 and 2018.

Lovisa Stannow

Lovisa Stannow, executive director, Just Detention International. Photo courtesy WitnessLA

Lovisa Stannow, executive director of Just Detention International, cites Willingham’s Edna Mahan report as an example of what she calls a “rubber stamp” PREA audit—a term she uses, she said, “in the classical sense that the auditor is using the same language in multiple reports about completely different facilities.”

Willingham’s Edna Mahan audit report is not the only one.

Stannow pointed to similarly incongruous reports at East Mississippi Correctional Facility, Mississippi’s Walnut Grove Correctional Facility, and Brooklyn’s Metropolitan Detention Center.

According to Stannow, Just Detention International has reviewed hundreds of audit reports that are “just blatantly sub-standard,” she said.

“We see audit reports,” she said, “where it seems like the auditors have not done even the most basic homework, where they have relied entirely on what corrections officials at the facilities they’re auditing are telling them.”

In 2017, the Justice Department provided a set of guidelines in their PREA Auditor Handbook, which laid down some rules meant to guard against these rubber stamp audits.

But the DOJ failed to institute any kind of enforcement mechanism to ensure that the new rules were followed.

 Congress Steps In

Late this fall, Congress passed a second round of fixes in the form of The United States Parole Commission Extension Act (HR 6896), which was signed into law by President Trump on October 31. HR 6896 amends the original 2003 PREA language to put some teeth into the system overseeing auditors, while also increasing the transparency of that oversight.

Stannow, whose organization aims to end sexual abuse in detention and who championed the new bill, said the new legislation is a good foundation for fixing the problem, but to fix it completely will require a culture change in correctional leadership.

A sensible corrections official that wants to make sure that he or she runs the best possible prison would obviously choose to get a thorough audit. And yet what we see is facilities, over and over again, hiring the sloppiest and most superficial of the auditors.”

American University law professor Brenda Smith agreed. “I think the audit function had problems from its inception,” said Smith, who was appointed to the National Prison Rape Elimination Commission when it was created in 2003.

Among these problems, said Smith, is the fact that facilities are allowed to choose their own auditor from a pool of certified auditors.

“The reality is that most of the auditors are acting as independent contractors, and for any number of them, this may be their livelihood,” Smith said, which creates a financial incentive for auditors to write up positive reports in hopes of getting chosen by facilities as often as possible.

HR 6896 is designed to address this and other conflicts of interest, stipulating that the DOJ-run PREA Management Office will create its own system for assigning certified auditors to federal, state, and local facilities.

brenda smith

Brenda Smith, American University Washington College of Law. Photo courtesy WitnessLA

A DOJ spokesperson told WitnessLA that the PREA Management Office is working on creating this new system, but she offered no details about how the system will work and no estimate as to when it will be up and running.

Another key provision in the bill intends to hold auditors accountable for the quality of their audits, stating that if an evaluation by the PREA Management Office finds an auditor’s work to be subpar or compromised, the auditor may be decertified.

The decertification must also be done in a transparent manner, according to the new law, meaning the auditor’s name and reason for decertification must be published and shared with any facilities that received an audit from that person within three years. The DOJ declined to comment on whether information about previously decertified auditors would be made public retroactively after HR 6896 became law.

“I would say that there has been a reluctance of the Department of Justice to decertify auditors, and that’s been a real problem,” Stannow said.

She added that it was previously not possible to find out whether former auditors were decertified “for cause” or whether they simply chose not to keep their certification up to date–an important distinction for jail and prison leadership in deciding whether a report by a no-longer certified auditor was compromised.

One issue that the new law does not address, according to PREA advocates, is the fact that the auditor pool is loaded with corrections officials. The PREA Resource Center and the PREA Management Office, two of the groups responsible for certifying auditors, said that they do not track the number of auditors who have corrections backgrounds.

But based on the review of hundreds of PREA audit reports, Stannow’s Just Detention International has determined the vast majority of active PREA auditors are current or former corrections officials.

This has one upside: someone with a background in corrections should have the knowledge to produce informed and credible evaluations of a facility. The downside is another potential conflict of interest, which could mean that a corrections official would be reluctant to give a negative report about a facility where friends and colleagues are working.

Los Angeles and PREA

Last year, auditors conducted the antithesis of a rubber stamp audit in Los Angeles.

The January 2018 report evaluated the Century Regional Detention Facility (CRDF), LA County’s large women’s jail located in Lynwood, CA, for its compliance with PREA standards. Over the course of 138 pages, the report—which was done at the request of the LA Sheriff’s Department— described in detail the jail’s failure to comply with 41 out of the 43 relevant standards.

The report represented approximately six months of work, including nearly three months of off-site preparations, and three days inside the jail. Among the failures auditors noted were that passersby could see some women’s bodies as they showered, and that vending machines and food pallets were placed in such a way that “could contribute to sexual abuse” by creating hidden alcoves.

They found that LASD hiring practices did not include asking potential hires about whether they had a history of sexual misconduct. And the team also discovered that not only were complaint boxes accessible to the deputies who might well be the subject of a complaint, but that an inmate in segregation who decided to report sexual abuse would have to hand her complaint directly to a deputy–again, possibly the subject of her complaint.

But the Lynwood jail report was never meant to be made public.

That’s because it was not an official audit at all. Instead, it was a field training opportunity for a cohort of seven auditor trainees, which included one attorney and six people with corrections or law enforcement backgrounds. The trainees were accompanied by six faculty from the PREA Resource Center and the Department of Justice.

Between the number of auditors investigating and, perhaps, the willingness of freshly-minted auditors to go the extra mile, their team effort resulted in an unusually thorough report–a report that only saw the light of day after the Los Angeles Times managed to acquire the lengthy document, and then posted the report on their site.

In addition to what the report revealed about the Lynwood jail’s overall environment, there are indications that much work remains to be done in making the facility safe for inmates. In February, LASD deputy Giancarlo Scotti was criminally charged with sexually assaulting six female inmates at Lynwood, between March and September of 2017.

And at least five former Lynwood inmates (some of whom are likely the same women mentioned in the criminal charges), have filed federal lawsuits against Scotti and the LA County Sheriff’s Department alleging sexual assaults by the former deputy.

Two of those lawsuits, involving three of the women, have recently been settled with LA County for $3.9 million.

Still, a common refrain among auditors and advocates is that PREA audits are not meant to be “gotcha” moments. The goal, they say, is to help facility leadership honestly assess staffs’ and inmates’ safety and then fix what needs to be fixed.

And to do that requires transparency.

“In general, American prisons and jails are incredibly closed environments, and unnecessarily so,” Stannow said. “We all need to demand to know what’s happening inside, because one of the reasons we have such a tremendous problem of sexual abuse in detention in the United States is that these are such closed-off environments.

“And when there’s no public scrutiny, that’s when ill-intentioned people have the ability to do horrible things.”

 This is a condensed and slightly edited version of an article that appeared in WitnessLA, part of an investigative series made possible with the generous support of the Fund for Investigative Journalism. The full article can be downloaded here.


Billion-Dollar Prison Budget, But Where’s the Toilet Paper?

Women in Arizona’s state prison complex at Perryville claim that chronic shortages of toilet paper force them to use wash rags instead. Authorities deny the allegations, but a state representative blames cost-cutting and a correctional culture that is largely “designed for men.”

Women confined in the Perryville prison at Goodyear, AZ., say the Arizona Department of Corrections (ADC) is not giving them enough toilet paper to live clean, hygienic lives.

perryville prison

Perryville State Prison complex. Photo courtesy Arizona Department of Corrections

Prison authorities have officially denied the charge, but a state representative blames cost-cutting by officials and a correctional culture that is largely “designed for men,” who she says have different hygienic needs than women do.

Letters recently sent from two inmates at the Lumley unit in Arizona State Prison Complex – Perryville to the American Friends Service Committee allege the prison has been running out of toilet paper, leaving them to use pads and wash rags.

“I ran out on Saturday 9/30, and although I continually asked for [toilet paper] was told they were out,” one woman wrote. “They did have pads that I used as [toilet paper] until Monday 10/1 when they ran out. I then had to use a wash rag until Wed morn (sic).”

Another inmate wrote “many of the officers are indifferent to the fact that we don’t have any.”

KJZZ has confirmed the identity of the authors of the letters as current inmates in the Perryville prison, but is not publishing their names as they fear retribution.

The American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) is a prisoner advocacy organization based in Tucson. AFSC communications director Joe Watson said the letters reflect a common theme in the correspondence they have with men and women in Arizona prisons.

“How do we expect folks to rehabilitate themselves, if we can’t even treat them like human beings?” Watson asked.

“If you treat folks like animals, withholding their basic necessities, how do we expect them to come out of prison and feel like they are a part of their community?”

More than 4,000 women are incarcerated at the Perryville prison in Goodyear, a suburb of Phoenix, one of 13 prisons operated by the Arizona Department of Corrections.

Among its well-known inmates is Jodi Arias, who began serving a life sentence there in 2015 for the murder of her ex-boyfriend in 2008.


A copy of a letter from an inmate alleging toilet paper shortages at Perryville. Photo courtesy American Friends Service Committee.

A mother of an inmate wrote to KJZZ in early September making similar claims that “normal everyday hygiene items are in short supply.”

KJZZ is not publishing her identity as she fears potential retaliation against her daughter for speaking out.

“My daughter told me that she had a cold, so I suggested she drink lots of water to help get rid of it,” the woman said. “She said she couldn’t because she would have to go to the bathroom all the time and there wasn’t any toilet paper.”

In a response to questions about the toilet paper shortage, Arizona Department of Corrections spokesman Andrew Wilder said the allegations were “patently untrue.”

“All inmates … have continuous access to toilet paper, at no cost to them,” Wilder said.

Wilder said all inmates are provided two toilet paper rolls each week, and can get more by exchanging the empty rolls after they are used.

In the same response, Wilder confirmed that the Lumley unit in Perryville had experienced a shortage, which he attributed to inmates abusing the system.

“The unfortunate reality is that some inmates misuse the toilet paper or misrepresent themselves when asking for more,” Wilder said. “And that can disrupt a unit’s ability to maintain a reasonable and reliable supply for all of the inmates.”

“On a recent Friday in September, the Lumley unit had 864 rolls of toilet paper on site for the weekend ahead (Lumley’s inmate population is 652). By Sunday, the unit had exhausted all of its paper,” Wilder said. “The unit was quickly resupplied within two hours. When prison staff conducted inspections of housing unit, they found multiple inmates possessing additional toilet paper.”

Wilder said Perryville Warden Regina Dorsey toured the Lumley unit Oct. 10 and confirmed that the toilet paper supply was “good” and that “rolls are being provided as required.”

However, Rep. Athena Salman, who has championed access to feminine hygiene products for women in prison, said she’s been hearing the complaints of a lack of toilet paper at Perryville for the past month.

Salman says the governor’s office confirmed the toilet paper shortages at Perryville in a phone conversation on Sept. 27, when she spoke with Katie Fischer, director of legislative affairs.

“They were aware of the situation,” Salman said.

An (Official) Policy on Toilet Paper

She said the governor’s office called it an “unintended consequence” of  an updated policy on feminine hygiene products issued by ADC Director Charles Ryan.

In February, Ryan announced  that, starting March 1, “all female inmates, regardless of need, will receive a minimum baseline quantity each month of 36 sanitary napkins, tampons or a combination of both, based on their preference.”

Wilder said the current toilet paper policy also went into effect March 1, and has come at an increased cost to ADC.

“Prior to February 2018, inmate toilet paper costs at ASPC-Perryville were approximately $16,000 per quarter,” Wilder said. “Since March, those costs have risen to approximately $48,000 per quarter.”

Salman said the governor’s office also cited increased expenses as a reason for the shortage, but she takes issue with the cost explanation.

“Let’s be real,” Salman said. “This is one of the most well-funded agencies in the state. The Department of Corrections has a billion-dollar budget. How is it that they can’t afford to meet the basic necessities of their inmates?”

Salman said the governor’s office told her ADC was struggling with knowing how much toilet paper to order due to increased demand.


Map courtesy Wikipedia

“I just think — when you have $1 billion — order more, you know? It shouldn’t be that complicated,” Salman said.

The fiscal year 2019 budget allocation from the state general fund for the Arizona Department of Corrections was $1,094,814,400.

Salman said she believes part of the problem is that the prison system is an institution “designed by men for men.”

“Women have to use toilet paper every time they go to the bathroom,” Salman said. “It’s violating female dignity. Ask any woman what it feels like when she goes into a stall and there’s no toilet paper.”

Salman noted that legislation she sponsored in the 2018 legislative session included an amendment that would have provided unlimited feminine hygiene products and toilet paper.

“The only way to ultimately protect people in prison is to codify these protections to give it the force of law,” she said.

Salman’s bill was blocked by House leadership in favor of allowing ADC to implement an internal policy change.

But Salman believes there is not enough oversight to make sure the policy is being carried out.

“It’s frustrating to see that we have women inside our prisons risking retaliation to let the outside world know that they are going days without toilet paper,” Salman said. “This is immoral and inhumane.”

Salman said all inmates should have their basic needs met immediately, and she will look for ways to codify the hygiene product policy in the future.

“Without the force of law, you’re really just leaving it up to the agency that was violating the rights of the prisoners in the first place,” Salman said.

This is a slightly edited version of a report by Jimmy Jenkins, a reporter for KJZZ Public Radio in Phoenix, and a 2018 John Jay Justice Reporting Fellow. His original report is available here.  Readers’ comments are welcome.