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Complaints prompt jail inspection

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By Kevin Koelling, Managing Editor

Health department finds no major problems

CANNELTON - A number of problems were noted in a Perry County Jail inspection initiated "based on some complaints," according to County Sheriff Bob Glenn.

"Jermie said most of it was bogus," Glenn said of an Aug. 13 inspection by County Sanitarian Jermie Farmer during a regular county commissioners' meeting Aug. 18. Farmer found "one small problem," the sheriff said, adding that a state inspector had visited "within the last couple of months."

Farmer was accompanied during the inspection by County Health Nurse Sara Gehlhausen.

"What business is it of the individual that contacted the health department, requesting them to inspect the jail?" Commissioner Jody Fortwendel asked.

"They got hold of the state, and the state ... sent the county health board in, because they'd already been there," Glenn answered. He speculated that sending others in where state officials had already inspected "gets more people in the picture ... so no one thinks it's one entity covering for another entity."

One of the issues identified in the complaint was male and female prisoners in one area, but Glenn said a block wall with a steel door separated them. They may have been able to hear each other's conversations, he added, but "we're in a jail environment versus a home environment, and there's a big difference."

Fortwendel asked the sheriff if the individual who filed the complaint was satisfied.

"We don't know," Glenn responded.

Commissioner Don Sherry asked whether Glenn would get a copy of the sanitarian's report and about the identity of the complainant.

"I will get the report from Jermie, yes," Glenn said. He wasn't sure, however, whether he'd learn the identity of the person who lodged the complaint.

"It seems like if we do something ... everybody knows who it is, but once others do it, they (can remain) anonymous to avoid any repercussions."

Ron Allen, director of field audits for the Indiana Department of Correction, said his office conducts inspections of all jails in the state annually, and requested the county health department perform one based on a complaint from Molly Howell.

Howell alleged the facility was overcrowded, some walls were moldy, medical treatment, ventilation and lighting were inadequate, a shower drain was clogged and the building was infested with bugs.

A state inspection conducted June 30 noted ventilation was poor, Allen said Friday, and a dishwashing area that should have three sinks had only two.

Lighting and air movement were "poor" and the facility doesn't have an adequate number of showers for the number of offenders who can be housed there, he added. It should have one shower for every 12 males and one for every eight females, but has one for every 14 prisoners.

Allen noted the jail did not exceed its capacity of 46 prisoners.

The jail was cited for lacking an emergency generator and law library. The latter requirement "is not as extensive as it sounds," Allen said, explaining a computer with a compact disc containing legal resources would suffice.

Title 210, Article 3 of the Indiana Administrative Code establishes minimum standards for county jails. It says inmates are responsible for keeping their own areas clean, and jail officials must make cleaning supplies available to inmates each day. Each jail must be inspected at least weekly, and each living area daily, by a designated jail official. Written inspection reports must be maintained, and unsafe or unsanitary conditions are to be remedied promptly.

The code also requires weekly inspections for evidence of insects and rodents. If any is found, licensed extermination services must be secured to eliminate the pests. Allen noted "there was some mold on walls in the cell areas" and the facility lacks indoor exercise space.

"It was built in 1965," he said. "It's got some age on it and it shows."

Once an inspection is completed, he explained, the sheriff gets a copy and can ask within 10 days for reconsideration of findings. Glenn made no such request, he said.

Howell said Tuesday that as of "at least the first of August," she had asked twice for reports on the inspection, to no avail. Her son, Dennis, has been in the jail since February, and "conditions up there are really bad," she said. "I think we need a new jail, but the politicians don't want to say anything because they're afraid they won't be re-elected."

If the facility was an animal shelter, she said, people wouldn't tolerate the conditions the county's prisoners have to endure.

"I'm not saying they need a Hilton hotel," she said, "but they're in dirty conditions, and it's not right that they're treated that way."

When her son developed a rash, Howell said, it took three weeks to get medical care.

"They have a doctor from Illinois, from what I'm told," she said. She did credit Jail Commander Kathy Lackey for going out to obtain medicine for him, but noted, "she's not a doctor."

The doctor was prevented by flooding from making one of what are supposed to be weekly visits, Howell said, and when he made it to the Cannelton facility, "he didn't even check him ... he just said most of the time rashes dry up and go away."

For people like her son, who spend a lot of time in the jail, "that mold cannot be good for them," she said. "I worry about those kids staying in there. I know kids make mistakes, but they need to be kept in sanitary conditions until it's determined they're guilty."

She said jail officials got word inspectors were going to visit, and had her son paint over the mold in his cell. They also released prisoners ahead of the inspection, she said, including Shannon Cronin, who was arrested on methamphetamine-related charges and whose bond had been set at $47,300, according to an April 24 News report.

Overcrowding had some of the women sleeping on the floor, according to Howell.

Cronin said Tuesday she was one of four female prisoners incarcerated just before the inspection. Only two beds existed in their side of the jail, so they rotated between the floor and a bed. For the 65 to 70 days she was jailed, "there were three of us," she said.

Cronin said she and another female were released ahead of the inspection, and also said mold was a problem.

"There was black mold on the walls," she said. "The walls were just wet. Anything sticking out of your blanket, like your neck and hair, were wet when you woke up. It was like sleeping in a tent."

She contracted a staph infection on her arm a week before she was released, she said, and still has a cough she attributes to conditions in the jail.

Farmer provided a copy of his report to The News Tuesday. It notes "a small area of mold measuring approximately three inches" was found in the upper corner of a wall in a women's cell. He was able to closely inspect a cell identified as Max 2, he reported, and found only a small drip in a shower faucet handle.

Max 1 was occupied by a prisoner charged with a violent crime, Farmer wrote, so "I was unable to view the inner portion of the cell." The jailer told him the air handler wasn't working, and "it was apparent during our inspection that ventilation was poor," he said in the report.

He reported no problems in either of two holding cells, but noted each contained approximately 20 inmates, so "close scrutinization of the individual cells was not possible."

Apart from being an aging structure built in the 1960s, he concluded, the Aug. 13 inspection of the jail revealed "no major problems that pose immediate danger to the incarcerated inmates or the employees working in the facility."

Cronin said she and her husband, Kenneth, who is still in jail awaiting trial, plan to file separate lawsuits concerning conditions there.

Glenn said Wednesday only a judge has the authority to release anyone from jail and officials there provide cleaning supplies daily and paint when requested. "What they do with it is up to them," he said, adding that a case of bleach is consumed every two weeks in the facility.