Marion County sheriff says privately-run jail has ‘gone downhill’

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind.-- While his daily offender count is typically above a court-ordered inmate population ceiling, Marion County Sheriff John  Layton used the word “infestation” to describe the “problem” at a privately-run county jail near downtown.

Jail II at 730 East Washington Street is operated by Corrections Corporation of America at a cost of $10 million a year to Marion County taxpayers and was the target of a raid Friday night by 60 sheriff’s deputies looking for weapons and contraband.

“We found a small amount of heroin, we found $600 in cash and seven cell phones,” said Layton. “It seems like every time we go back into the same cell blocks we end up finding something else. That’s telling us the inmates know we’re coming.”

During the raid, offender Nicholas Grant apparently swallowed a balloon containing heroin and died of an overdose.

Layton was asked whether it was inmates and their compatriots or CCA staff smuggling in the drugs.

“Good question,” he answered. “Like I said, we do have people of interest on both sides of the fence.”

Layton’s comments came just before a meeting of the Criminal Justice Planning Council which learned the Marion County Jail population earlier in the morning was 16 above its limit of 2,507 offenders, though transfers throughout the day could bring that total below capacity by nightfall.

Nearly half of Layton’s inmates are housed at Jail II.

“It's kind of been an infestation of what’s been going on over there,” said the sheriff. “Things have gone downhill and we have a few people of interest that we’re looking at. This might have been just a handful of people that had been involved in as far as the inmates themselves have been concerned but nobody is out of the realm of suspicion at this point.

“We continue to keep the pressure on Jail II and the inmates in there so that this doesn’t happen again.”

Former CCA employees, IMPD sources and the families of inmates have said that Jail II is undermanned and rife with drugs.

Joseph Armanno said his son Joey was hospitalized more than a week ago after overdosing on heroin inside the jail.

“He told me there are more drugs in there than on the streets,” said Armanno. “He said you can buy a cell phone for $300.”

Layton vowed his deputies would step up their inspections of the privately run operation.

“We’re gonna ride herd on them 24 hours a day. That’s one of the changes that’s going to be made,” said Layton. “We look at everything. We’ve pulled all their records. We’ve pulled all their visitors. We’ve pulled all their phone calls."

Layton inherited the CCA contract when he was elected sheriff in 2010, though he served in a top position of then-Sheriff Frank Anderson when the Nashville, Tennessee-based corporation began operating Jail II.

“It's been a pretty good track record with CCA and as far as the pudding goes, the proof is always in the pudding, and the pudding wasn’t too bad," he said. "They were taking care of business pretty well.”

Still, Layton said CCA’s days involved in Marion County’s jail system are numbered.

The CCA contract expires at the end of 2017, one year after Mayor Joe Hogsett is expected to announce his plans to build a new jail and sheriff’s office and revamp the county’s criminal justice system.

Layton said any future jail will be solely the operational responsibility of the sheriff that follows him into office in 2019.

“I will make sure as far as I’m concerned that it's 100 percent under the sheriff.”

CCA recently suffered a setback when the U.S. Department of Justice announced it would end the company’s operation of 13 federal prisons.

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