Jail II looking for college students to become guards

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. -- As of 9 a.m. Monday, Marion County Sheriff John Layton was responsible for 2,593 inmates in the Marion County incarceration system.

Nearly half of them are sitting in cells down East Washington Street from the Marion County Jail at the privately operated Jail II, owned by Corrections Corporation of America.

CCA is on a hiring blitz, trying to find enough new employees to fill the approximately 10% vacancy rate of its 200 person staff.

“Turnover rate is fairly high. It is in corrections everywhere,” said Warden Jeff Conway. “A lot of our staff will look at it and say, ‘This just isn’t something that I can do.’”

CCA recently held a job fair at nearby Harrison College, seeking applicants primarily from among the school’s criminal justice majors looking for a way into their chosen profession.

One recent Jail II employee told CBS4 he wanted out.

Gabe Frost, 37, came home from a U.S. Army tour in Iraq and said he felt safer in a warzone than he did in the former car factory remodeled as a correction facility.

“It’s just chaos in there. The staffing levels are so short, it’s so unorganized in my opinion that officers are facing a losing battle,” said Frost. “I was severely outnumbered when I was on post. Being by myself with in excess of 140 inmates alone and trying to control them, I wasn’t able to do that.”

Conway said, according to industry standards, the inmate to staff ratio is much smaller.

“5.3 to one was the last figuration on it but that was based on a 1030 population because our contract with the city is actually for 1,030 beds and we’re over that population right now,” said Conway, whose jail holds 1,228 inmates, thereby increasing the ratio of offenders to staff.

Conway needs to fill several vacancies among his 140-person correction staff.

Frost said without counting supervisors, office staff, nurses and maintenance personnel, CCA’s correction officers are severely outnumbered by inmates.

“As far as inmate behavior, it is pretty much what I expected,” he said. “I wasn’t expecting to be that short-staffed. I knew the staffing problem was bad. I didn’t realize it was as severe as it was. I didn’t realize I would be placed on post with 146 inmates alone fresh out of training at less than 30 days on the floor I was put in that position for four days.”

Conway said new hires will be paid $12.87 an hour and overtime is mandatory.

“When we hire an employee we give them intense five week training on rules to deal with inmate population and the responsibilities that they have for their care. Once they complete that academy they’re sent out onto the floors where they spend a week or two when they are on on-the-job status.”

Conway said many new employees wash out in the first months on the job due to verbal abuse and threats of violence by offenders.

Frost said that’s why he resigned after two months on the job.

“The inmates in Marion County have a tendency to be very aggressive especially with new officers and when you’re new on the floor you’re constantly receiving threats of violence. I’ve had inmates tell me they’re going to show up at my house and kill me in my sleep. I’ve had inmates tell me that they’re going to split my head off the wall and beat me unconscious right there in the dorm the next time I walk in.”

Inmates incarcerated at Jail II are listed as medium-high offenders.

“They’re in there for beating people unconscious, some of them are. There’s a lot of them in there with charges of very violent felonies,” said Frost. “I lost track how many times I’ve done paperwork or doing checks or whatnot and have a fist buzz my face by an inmate just, I don’t know if they were playing or just trying to show they could do it. I’d be sitting there at the desk which is just inside the dorm and have all the inmates running around and have a foot buzz my head, turnaround and see it just in the nick of time.”

On the night of July 1, five inmates were involved in a fight that left one offender bloodied. All refused to file complaints on each other and no criminal charges were pressed.

“Most of its inmates-on-inmates fighting or assaulting each other,” said Conway, “and a lot of it when we investigate it and look back at it is really stuff they’re bringing in off the streets with them.”

CCA’s ten-year contract with Marion County ends in 2017 and is due for renegotiation just as Mayor Joe Hogsett is leading a study of the criminal justice system in advance of construction of a new county jail.

BKD National Governmental Group reported Monday to the Criminal Justice Planning Council that it had completed its statistical analysis of the Marion County Criminal Justice system and has issued a draft report that contains 28 options for revamping the process from arrest to conviction and incarceration.

Some of those options include better screening and tracking of offenders with mental health issues, more pretrial release analysis for referral to community corrections and probation and improved utilization of data.

The final report will be delivered July 29 as Hogsett has set an end-of-the-year deadline for a decision on building a new jail and sheriff’s office.

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