Experts Advise How to Improve Local Jail

The primary jail in Cleveland has been likened to a medieval dungeon. Experts urge conversion to a “direct supervision” model in which corrections officers are stationed along with inmates.

Descriptions of the Cuyahoga County, Oh., jail documented in a report by the U.S. Marshals Service conjure images of a medieval dungeon, infested with vermin and insects, where guards intimidate prisoners until they fear for their safety. Inmates are denied basic hygiene necessities and are held in crowded cells for days on end, often sleeping on mats on a cold floor. asked experts what it would take to transform the deplorable jail into one of the nation’s best, one that not only keeps its inmates alive and safe, but sets them on a path toward a better life upon release. The website consulted with David Bogard of Pulitzer/Bogard & Associates, LLC, Allen Beck of Justice Concepts Inc., and retired jail consultant Tom Allison. All have helped dozens of jails enhance security, reduce violence and recidivism and improve outcomes for inmates beyond their time behind bars.

“The most critical thing in working with inmates is giving them a light at the end of the tunnel — and it’s not a train,” Allison said. Experts agreed that the most effective, safest and least violent jails have one thing in common – they’ve embraced the “direct supervision” model to control inmate behavior. Direct supervision operates on the notion that safety and conduct improve for everyone in the jail when correctional officers are stationed within the common spaces inmates share. Previously, many “linear” jails had rows of cells with an officer patrolling a staff corridor and periodically peeking into cells to monitor behavior. In direct-supervision jails, officers spend their shift in the common space, or dayroom — mingling with inmates, establishing themselves as the authority while treating their charges with respect, and staying watchful for signs of brewing tension. The staffing ratio typically does not exceed one officer for 64 inmates.


Majority of NYC Jail Inmate Injuries Aren’t Reported

An agency that inspects New York City’s jails found that two-thirds of 149 serious injuries never were recorded by the city’s Correction Department. The study also found that it took two hours to provide medical attention to seriously injured prisoners.

The New York City Correction Department underreports the number of inmates seriously injured in its jails and lockups and doesn’t even have a reliable way to count them, a new report says. Some 67 percent of 149 serious injuries audited were never recorded as any type of incident by the department, says a Board of Correction report published Monday, the New York Daily News reports. “DOC’s investigation process for injuries is plagued by delays, poor accountability, and incomplete reviews,” the report concluded. Serious injuries include cuts that require stitches, certain types of fractures and dislocations, post-concussion syndrome, and the “disabling” of an organ.

The Correction Department was also slow to respond to inmates seriously injured, investigators found. “On average, it took approximately two hours for seriously injured incarcerated people to receive medical attention after a DOC supervisor was notified of the injury,” the review says. The majority of serious injures involved cuts requiring sutures. All told, 53 percent were at least partially caused by an “inmate-on-inmate” fight.
There’s a big difference between the number of serious injuries reported by NYC Health + Hospitals’ Correctional Health Services workers and the number of incidents reported internally and publicly by the Correction Department. Health Services workers reported 816 seriously injured inmates in 2017, but the Department of Correction reported just 158. The Board of Correction, which monitors and inspects jails, recommended the Correction Department and Correctional Health Services immediately start to publish monthly detailed data on serious injuries. It also recommended the agencies come up with new protocols to make sure all cases are reported.


AL Sheriff Made $1.5 Million From U.S. Inmate Funds

Etowah County, Al., Sheriff Todd Entrekin, who leaves office next month, pocketed $1.5 million of unspent food money allocated for federal inmates, reports

Towering above the streets of Gadsden, Al., the Etowah County Detention Center is an outsized presence in the small town. The facility seems too big to house only the county’s thieves, drug dealers and other accused and convicted criminals. Indeed, the jail has a federal contract to incarcerate hundreds of undocumented immigrants who face lengthy legal battles over their immigration status and alleged crimes, reports Etowah County Sheriff Todd Entrekin runs that jail and makes a lot of money doing it. He keeps money budgeted for jail food that goes unspent, saying he kept more than $750,000 from 2015 to 2017. Records show he had already pocketed more than twice that amount.

An review of records has revealed for the first time the extent to which Entrekin and the county’s general fund benefited from the federal immigrant-detention contract. Beginning in October 2011, the surplus from feeding federal inmates over the next three years was more than $3 million – half of which Entrekin pocketed and half of which went to the county’s general fund. When the federal contract was in jeopardy, Entrekin went to Washington, D.C., to lobby U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to keep it in place. Entrekin lost his bid for re-election this year and will step down as sheriff next month. He is the only Alabama sheriff whose jail houses hundreds of immigration detainees for the federal government. Lawyers and other experts say that he may have run afoul of a number of federal laws by receiving the immigration money.


When Jail Is an Early-Warning Center for the Mentally Ill

After New York State began closing state mental health institutions, the jail population increased—adding a burden to already overcrowded facilities. But officials in Cortland County came up with an innovative strategy to address the problem.

On an average day, about 10 percent of the 90 individuals held in the tiny Cortland County Jail in upstate New York are suffering from mental illness.

That would be a significant number in any rural facility, but Cortland has only 57 designated beds to begin with─along with 30 additional slots in a former exercise space that has been converted into a dormitory.

So the presence of people who would be better handled in an institution rather than a jail adds an extra burden for prison authorities.

And the number of such individuals is “increasing,” says Cortland County Jail Capt. Nick Lynch.

Helping an individual with the right treatment instead of forcing him to languish in jail can make a huge difference—if the need is recognized in time.

Cortland County Undersheriff Budd Rigg tells the story of an out-of-towner who was arrested after breaking a window at a local supermarket. The man was under the influence of drugs, but during his initial screening, officials realized that substance abuse was a sign of something more serious.

“It became more and more evident, (there) was a serious mental health issue,” Rigg recalled.

Referrals were made to get help for the man. It got to the point where he had to be on constant watch, due to concerns that he might harm himself.

“We can’t force medication in jail like they can in an institution,” Rigg said. “So we finally got this individual to an institution through OMH (the state Office of Mental Health), and got him stabilized on medications.

“(When) he came back, he was a different person.”

Once back on his medication, the man was returned to jail until he went before a judge.

“The charges weren’t that severe; they realized it was mental health, psychosis,” Riggs said of the man, who worked for a military contractor. The individual paid restitution for the damage he caused, and was allowed to return home to North Carolina.

His mother called Riggs a month later, crying.

“(She thanked) us for …not just throwing him in a cell and locking him away, or sending him off to prison,” Rigg said.

The state has ordered the county to find a way to relieve jail overcrowding, but its ability to divert inmates with mental-health troubles to other facilities and programs is limited, and the number of mental-health facilities available is dropping.

New York State has closed several mental health facilities, effectively forcing many people with mental health to end up in jail when they have brushes with the law, said Bill Zipfel, superintendent of the Genesee County Jail in New York.

The state Department of Mental Health closed about nine centers in a three-year period.

In 2017, the state served about 139,000 people with mental health issues, a fraction of the estimated 865,000 mentally ill people, reports the Manhattan Institute, a policy think tank.

The administration of Gov. Andrew Cuomo has continued a long-term policy of trying to reduce mental-health facilities. Non-forensic state psychiatric centers lost 15 percent of their capacity since 2014, while their average daily census dropped 12 percent.

It’s an issue nationwide.

People with serious mental illnesses are admitted to jails across the U.S. about two million times a year, according to the Stepping Up Initiative — a national effort to divert people with mental illness from jails and into treatment.

Almost three-quarters of those inmates have drug and alcohol use problems.

“A lot of mental health is masked with self-medication, drug use,” Rigg said.

New York State Assembly Member Gary Finch (R-Springport), a member of the assembly corrections committee, said the state’s closure of mental health facilities amounted to “putting people on the street” with no resources for help. Then they end up in jail.

Instead of providing funding for new programs, Finch said, the state should invest in existing programs that can help people.

In the last five years, Cortland County’s female population in jail has gone up about 300 percent — the largest growing inmate population in the county and state. Many of the female inmates are victims of years of abuse, but their underlying problems are rarely recognized, said Riggs.

“It’s 100 percent a mental health issue,” Rigg said.

Abuse is not always the reason for mental illness among inmates, Rigg said, although it is the reason for most.

There are some who have had a mental health diagnosis all their life, went off their medication because they started feeling better — from the medication — and then did something they normally wouldn’t, like tax evasion, Rigg said.

“Some of them are truly only here because of the mental health and people just didn’t know what to do with them,” Rigg said. “They have done something, annoyed someone on Main Street, and ended up in jail.”

In the absence of state help, the Cortland County Sheriff’s Office has begun to be more pro-active, Rigg said.

Every individual entering the Cortland County Jail is screened for mental illness, Rigg said.

“One hundred percent of our staff are trained in lower-level mental health issues,” Rigg said. “Our staff is trained in screening and identifying any emergency needs.”

A correction officer watching a housing unit is able to identify behavior changes and knows when to intervene, Rigg said.

Unlike many jails, the county mental health authorities have paid for a forensic counselor on site, who is available 35 hours a week for one-on-one counseling.

“She meets with people regularly so we don’t get those flair ups like you see in other jails, and, knock on wood, that helps with our suicide attempts,” Rigg said.

“That one office, 35 hours a week, is worth its weight in gold.”

The lack of mental health centers does create a void, Rigg said. But Cortland County has a Mobile Crisis Team, which he said helps make sure those with a mental illness never make it to jail, or so police don’t have to get involved.

The team, formed at the beginning of the year, is a grant-funded program run by Liberty Resource of Syracuse, N.Y., which assists all law enforcement agencies in Cortland Count.y. There are teams in four other counties, too. Those on the team in Cortland Cortland all live in the county, and work for local agencies, such as the county Mental Health Department, Cortland Regional Medical Center, county Probation Department and others.

In the past three years, between the five counties, the Mobile Crisis Team has diverted 80 percent of the people it has helped from either going to the hospital or jail, said Theresa Humennyj, regional program director for Liberty Resource.

While sometimes police involvement may be necessary, Rigg acknowledged having an officer present, and potentially having to handcuff someone could escalate the situation.

That’s where the Mobile Crisis Team steps in.

“People get anxious or scared,” Humennyj said about how people act when there is a police presence. “It turns into he said-she said blaming, and a person might make bad choices.

“We try to come in so it doesn’t get to that point and they avoid jail.”

The teams divert between 2 percent and 3 percent of the jail’s population to other services, Rigg said.

“Our local community has done so much on the outside,” Rigg said. “So the more we address the issues in the community, the more it helps the jail.”

This is a condensed and edited version of the first part of a five-part series examining jails and mental illness. Nicholas Graziano, a staff writer at The Cortland Standard, is a 2018 Rural Justice Reporting Fellow. The complete article and other parts of the series can be accessed here.


Half of MS Jail Detainees Stay Over 90 Days

Long pretrial detentions are particularly prevalent in Mississippi because of impoverished inmates who can’t make bail, delays in appointing public defenders, slow processing of evidence and infrequent meetings of local courts.

A new survey provided to The Associated Press suggests that the number of Mississippi inmates jailed for short periods may be declining, but that those in jail for longer is holding steady. Criminal justice experts and state lawmakers say they need more data to help determine why so many people are in jail, what’s keeping them there, and what Mississippi should do about it. The survey by the MacArthur Justice Center shows almost half of the more than 5,000 people jailed stayed for 90 or more consecutive days. More than 600 had been in jail longer than a year, but that includes an unknown number of people serving sentences in jails and not just awaiting trial.

Long pretrial detentions are particularly prevalent in Mississippi because of impoverished inmates who can’t make bail, delays in appointing public defenders, slow processing of evidence and infrequent meetings of local courts because of the state’s rural nature. Cliff Johnson, a University of Mississippi law professor who has led data collection, blames many extended detentions on judges who set bail that poor defendants can’t pay. MacArthur has repeatedly sued cities and counties in Mississippi for jailing poor people who can’t afford to pay bail or fines. He says prosecutors often drag their feet on indicting jailed suspects and said the state Supreme Court isn’t doing enough to guarantee speedy trials to defendants. “There is no limit in Mississippi on how long a person can be held prior to indictment, so detainees can wait up to a year or more before even being formally charged with a crime,” Johnson said. “They wait months after that for their trial date.” The most recent census conducted by the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics, in 2013, showed an average pretrial jail stay in Mississippi of 40 days, the sixth-longest in the country.


How a Minnesota County Found Alternatives to Jail

Almost all the jail growth in the U.S. since 2000 has been in pretrial incarceration, but in St. Louis County, a program that allows more pretrial defendants to be released under supervision has bucked the trend. It’s been a life-changer for Renita Syas.

It’s been five years since Renita Syas was booked into the St. Louis County Jail in Duluth, Minn.

She spent three weeks and a day in custody — a stay that doesn’t exactly stand out in the daily churn of the county lock-up — but it was enough for the Duluth woman to decide she was never coming back.

“I just got really sick of it,” said Syas. “I didn’t want to go spend another 22 days in jail. That was scary enough for me. I knew I didn’t want to live my life like that any more.”

Today, Syas is a success story for local officials who are seeking to find alternatives that offer rehabilitation rather than incarceration for many offenders.

As St. Louis County continues to grapple with a jail-crowding crisis that is among the worst in the state, attention has shifted toward programming that addresses the needs of those who land in the criminal justice system.

Inside the St. Louis County Jail. Inmates’ faces have been blurred as requested by the jail. Bob King / Duluth News Tribune


Syas’ journey to jail is one that police, attorneys, judges and probation officers say they see in criminal defendants on a daily basis.

Born in the Twin Cities and mostly raised in Chicago, she was a teenager when she first moved to Duluth with her mother in the late 1990s. Syas, 36, said she had been abused by a family member from a young age, but for years refused to talk about it, and the trauma went unaddressed well into adulthood.

 In 2013, Syas found herself in what she now describes as a “tornado.”

Her partner at the time went to jail, and Syas said she found herself feeling alone and helpless. Mental illness coupled with chemical dependency overwhelmed her; she was soon arrested and faced multiple felony charges, including assault and robbery.

The jail stay, Syas said, was reality telling her to wake up. She nearly lost her apartment while in custody. After pleading guilty to the assault charge, her saving grace was the opportunity she was offered on pretrial release.

 “I pleaded out and I was just kind of waiting for that sentencing date,” she said. “I got pretrial release kind of at the last minute, so that’s how I was able to come home.”

The release from jail allowed Syas to begin putting the pieces back together in her life.

She ultimately had an 81-month prison sentence stayed for five years of supervised probation.

Probation was not a cakewalk, however. Syas went to treatment and was subject to electronic monitoring and random drug and alcohol testing.

She had to make frequent appearances in the South St. Louis County Mental Health Court program. She was required to complete the Duluth Bethel Female Offender Program.

“I was really going through some mental health issues and trying to deal with my housing situation,” she said. “I remember just being afraid of coming out of jail, and asking, ‘Can I really do this? This is so much.’

“It was a real struggle, but first I had to get my health in line and then work on completing all the things I had to complete. The mental health court really helped me change my life. The Bethel program, too.”

Expansion in Probation Services

In recent years, an expansion in probation services has allowed more defendants to get out of jail on supervised release while their cases are pending. And a reassessment of post-conviction probation violations is seeking to allow offenders an alternative to a repeat trip to jail.

See Also: St. Louis County seeks to buck trend as jail growth surges nationwide

“The real measure is probably not the current jail population, but how many lives can find a successful pathway because we had contact with them,” said Dan Lew, the region’s chief public defender.

“That’s how we’ve got to measure our outcomes. Not our jail population, and certainly not how long we can incarcerate folks. How many folks are living better?”

On any given day, about 80 percent of the inmates at the St. Louis County Jail are in pretrial custody.

Yet to be convicted of a crime, how long they remain in jail is largely dependent on the progress of their case through a court system that is seeing increasingly crowded dockets as case filings continue to climb.

“Cases used to move much quicker,” said St. Louis County Attorney Mark Rubin, who has 40 years of experience in the local criminal justice system. “Now we’ve got people who are on pretrial sitting in jail for far too long.”

The St. Louis County Jail has trended at or above national percentages for pretrial incarceration.

A February report from the Bureau of Justice Statistics found that 65 percent of inmates in county and city jails across the country were in the pretrial phase in 2016.

“Almost all of the jail growth in the U.S. since 2000 has been in pretrial incarceration,” said Cherise Fanno Burdeen, CEO of the Maryland-based Pretrial Justice Institute.

Rubin said some judges are better than others at moving cases along, but he added the concept of a speedy trial now seems like a relic of a different era.

Advances in technology are leading to far more evidence that must be processed and reviewed by both law enforcement and attorneys. Gone are the days when a criminal case largely relied on a handful of typewritten police reports.

Today, there is DNA and advanced drug tests — and a shortage of the chemists at the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension crime lab who are qualified to analyze them. There are body cameras videos that must be reviewed by the prosecution and defense attorneys. A forensic examination of cellphone or computer data can add hundreds of pages to a case file.

An inmate looks through available reading materials at the St. Louis County Jail. Photo by Bob King/Duluth News Tribune

Those are all great tools for the justice system but a significant burden in keeping cases moving forward, according to Lew.

“A typical case now, it’s thousands of pages of discovery,” he said. “We’re talking terabytes of discovery, which can only be accessed when you plug in a huge external hard drive and play 80 body cams.

“Just think of that, 80 body cams. This is just to open the file and read it for the first time. Leaving aside the time it takes to talk about DNA and forensic science, which is terribly time consuming — and our clients need that time.”

State law prescribes that 90 percent of criminal cases should be completed within three months, 97 percent should be done in six months, and 99 percent should be over within one year.

Minor criminal cases that typically wouldn’t result in any significant jail time — a first-time drunken driving offense or a fifth-degree assault, for instance — are generally meeting those marks. But the more serious cases that could result in a lengthy jail stay are more problematic.

In 2017, nearly 10 percent of “major criminal” cases — generally felonies and gross misdemeanors — went beyond a year in St. Louis County. That number has averaged about 8.5 percent since 2013, roughly equal with the statewide average over that time.

“The state has a hard time with the major criminal cases,” said Marieta Johnson, the 6th District court administrator. “That would be one case type where we’re all the same.”

With most inmates awaiting their next court date, a study from former Minnesota Department of Corrections Commissioner Ken Schoen found that about 300 people who were locked up in the St. Louis County Jail in 2012 could have been safely released into the community with certain conditions.

“These were predominantly offenders who were there on higher-risk offenses or had prior offenses,” said Wally Kostich, chief probation officer for the five-county Arrowhead Regional Corrections (ARC). “Maybe some of them had been on probation before and violated the terms.”

Schoen’s analysis provided the spark for a new initiative: intensive pretrial release.

Ross Litman

St. Louis County Sheriff Ross Litman. Photo by Bob King/Duluth News Tribune

St. Louis County Sheriff Ross Litman in 2013 offered to reallocate some money from his jail budget to the probation agency, allowing ARC to add two probation officers in Duluth and two on the Iron Range strictly assigned to defendants who could be released into the community with a higher level of supervision.

Kostich said the program offers a level of attention that is similar to what an offender would receive after leaving prison on supervised release, or parole.

“You see very little of these IPT agents in the office,” he said. “They’re more on the streets seeing people in the community, verifying work status, making sure they’re going to their treatment programs.

“There’s drug testing involved. … These are people that normally would be sitting in custody had it not been for the ability to add these positions and see people out in the community.”

The program has a capacity of 50-60 clients each in Duluth and on the Range. With each day of incarceration for a single inmate costing St. Louis County taxpayers about $131, that adds up.

An Arrowhead Regional Corrections analysis found potential savings of $10.6 million through 2016, after 2 ½ years of operation for the program.

“As a judge, it’s a great alternative, frankly, because typically the person has failed on regular pretrial release,” said 6th Judicial District Chief Judge Sally Tarnowski. “I tend to think that many, if not most, of the people at the jail have either a chemical dependency or alcohol issue.

“If we just let them out of jail without addressing that, we’re just going to create this revolving door where they’re going to get back out in community and go back to old behaviors, and not get treated for the very thing that’s brought them to the jail.”

 The success of the intensive pretrial release program prompted Kostich and partnering agencies to take a look at a similar initiative on the back end of criminal cases.

It was apparent that most post-conviction inmates were in custody for probation violations — often technical infractions, such as missing an appointment, failing to check in with their probation officer or failing a drug test.

Rather than filing a formal violation report with the court and asking the judge to issue a warrant, ARC developed an alternative sanctions program that can be utilized in many instances.

A Contract With Conditions

The program offers the client an opportunity to sign a contract with some new conditions, such as additional days of community service, an alcohol assessment, counseling or cognitive skills programming, depending on the offense. If they agree, as most do, the contract goes to the sentencing judge for approval.

“It’s a way to address violations in lieu of a defendant having to appear in front of the court,” Kostich said.

“By lessening those appearances, we can hopefully give the court a chance to dispose of more high-priority cases in a quicker fashion.”

Like intensive pretrial release, the program was initially started with funds from the Sheriff’s Office. It now operates under ARC’s regular budget, with two full-time agents handling the program.

In any phase of supervision, Kostich said it’s important to tailor conditions to hone in on the needs of the individual. He said most clients will get a standard, comprehensive assessment to determine the appropriate level of supervision and programming.

“Sometimes the more conditions imposed upon an individual the more difficult it is for that individual to be able to maintain a crime-free lifestyle,” he said. “It’s just not a helter skelter that we’re just throwing up a bunch of conditions because I’m a true believer in the more we throw out there, the more difficult it is to succeed.”

180-Degree Turn

In just five years, Syas has made a 180-degree turn in her life. Soon after graduating from mental health court and completing the Bethel program, she stopped by the CHUM emergency shelter in downtown Duluth to pick up an application.

She said it took near-daily calls, but she finally convinced the organization to give her a job. Not long after, she was offered another employment opportunity at Life House, the youth homeless outreach agency, where she now works full time as the activities coordinator.

Syas knows her line of work well. She said she benefitted from the services of both CHUM and Life House earlier in life.

“My life is not perfect by a long shot but I’ve bought a house, I’ve had a kid, I now have a vehicle — all these things that I’ve wanted,” she said.

“I can’t complain.”

Syas recalled initially having a dismissive attitude toward the court and the people trying to help her. But the trip to jail, and the resulting opportunities to get treatment and resources, changed that.

Today, Syas makes visits to the mental health court and crisis-intervention training sessions hosted by the Duluth Police Department, volunteering to share her first-person account of going to jail and navigating the criminal justice system.

“I’ve lived it, I’ve experienced it, and it was not too long ago,” Syas said.
“I share that testimonial every day of my life now in the job I work in.”

Tom Olsen, a staff writer for the Duluth News Tribune, is a 2018 John Jay Rural Justice Reporting Fellow. This is a condensed and slightly edited version of the second and final installment of a series on jail incarceration written as part of his Fellowship Project. The complete version and other articles in the series can be accessed here.


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.


Potential Suit Could Bring U.S. Takeover of Cleveland Jail

After a U.S. Marshals service report found inhumane conditions at the Cuyahoga County jail in Cleveland, a local judge said a law firm is considering a suit that could lead to a federal judge’s overseeing reforms.

News that at least one law firm is considering suing Cuyahoga County, Oh., over the “inhumane” conditions found by federal investigators in the county jail this month is unsurprising and, in many ways, a blast from the past, reports Civil rights attorneys make their bread and butter filing lawsuits over violations of peoples’ constitutional rights. The kind of remedies sought through lawsuits over jail conditions give them an opportunity to have a federal judge step in and oversee reforms. This includes the possibility of a court-enforced agreement which would be the third time the county has entered into one over jail conditions in the past 50 years.

Common Pleas Administrative Judge John Russo sent his 33 colleagues this week a letter addressing the possibility of a lawsuit that would ask for “the Federal Court to take over control of the jail.” The letter was sent a week after a report written by the U.S. Marshals Service detailing its investigation in the jail was released. That investigation uncovered widespread inhumane conditions in the jail. The probe was launched this year after seven inmates died during a four-month span. The county’s director of corrections resigned  this month.


Judge Orders Methadone for Prospective MA Jail Inmate

A federal judge has ordered the Essex County, Ma., House of Correction to provide methadone to a prospective inmate who relies on the medication to treat his opioid addiction. An expert said the ruling was the first of its kind in the U.S.

A federal judge has ordered the Essex County, Ma., House of Correction to provide methadone to a prospective inmate who relies on the medication to treat his opioid addiction, the Boston Globe reports. The judge said denying the treatment can violate both the Americans with Disabilities Act and the constitutional prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment. The preliminary injunction U.S. District Judge Denise Casper applies to only one man and one facility, but it could resonate nationwide because most prisons and jails do not allow medications to treat addiction.

“This is the first time a court in this country has ruled that failure to provide medication-assisted treatment in the criminal justice system can violate the ADA and the Constitution,” said Sally Friedman of the Legal Action Center, a New York-based nonprofit that fights discrimination against people with addiction. About two-thirds of all inmates have a substance use disorder. In Massachusetts, legislation passed this year is starting to open the door to antiaddiction medications in some correctional settings. The ruling this week might encourage faster action than the new Massachusetts law requires. Around the U.S., the decision could have “enormous implications,” Friedman said, because it signals that similar suits are likely to succeed. She predicted that legislators and corrections officials will take note. Outside of most prisons and jails, methadone and another medication, buprenorphine, are considered standard treatment for those addicted to opioids.


Feds Find Inhumane Conditions in Cleveland Jail

While seven inmates died in four months,  the chief conversation by Cuyahoga County officials about the jail was about how much revenue could result from a game-changing consolidation of jails throughout the county, reports

The overwhelming question arising from an exhaustive U.S. Marshal’s Service report about inhumane conditions at Cleveland’s Cuyahoga County jail is this: How did things get so bad? The answer, reports, is money. While crowding overwhelmed the understaffed jail, while conditions throughout the facility worsened, while seven inmates died in four months,  the chief conversation by county officials about the jail was about how much revenue could result from a game-changing consolidation of jails throughout the county. The deaths, between June 10 and Oct. 2, happened as Cuyahoga County Executive Armond Budish commenced his long planned merging of many city and township jails into the system operated by the county.

The Marshal’s Service said Cuyahoga County fails to provide jail inmates with the basic necessities they need to live. It withholds food and water and doesn’t provide medical and mental health care for inmates, said the report issued Wednesday. It said inmates’ constitutional rights are routinely violated. The report offers a clear picture of a jail rife with deplorable conditions. Besides the inmates who died, fifty-five other inmates tried to take their own lives within the past year, the marshals found. During discussions of the jail merger, the chief benefit discussed was money: how much savings the cooperating cities would realize, and how much revenue the county could generate for itself. Budish said jail regionalization would bring in $5.5 million to the county over two years. Maggie Keenan, county budget director, said more money could be brought in if the county continued to add inmates. If more than half of the jail’s beds were filled as a result of taking on regional inmates, the county would “break even, she said. Money raised beyond that break-even point by filling more beds would then be used to shore up the county budget.