Another Marion County inmate commits suicide as jail crowds grow

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MARION COUNTY, Ind. — For the second time since a task force offered suggestions to Sheriff John Layton on how to curb inmate suicides, another offender has killed himself inside the Marion County Jail.

A 32-year-old man, jailed on charges of methamphetamine possession, burglary and theft, was found unresponsive inside his cell Sunday night.

Another attempted suicide was foiled early Monday morning.

An inmate took his life inside the jail July 2, three weeks after Sheriff Layton declared he had, “zero tolerance,” for offender suicides and vowed to implement the recommendations of a task force created in the wake of several 2015 suicides and lawsuits filed by the families of two offenders who killed themselves.

While the sheriff’s staff has erected posters throughout the jail advising employees and inmates of the warning signs of suicide, other suggestions, such as the establishment of a suicide hotline, the recording of taped notices during jail phone calls and a revised jail handbook and orientation video have yet to be completed.

“The suicide coordinator’s been established, the duties have been established,” said Col. James Martin, jail commander. “Training staff, of course, they get that training annually through suicide prevention. We’re working on the “Seven Minutes to Save” now to be approved and re-edited and being distributed now.”

Correct Care Solutions, the jail’s private medical care provider, is developing a concise training video, “Seven Minutes to Save,” in the wake of the Marion County task force findings, that will be distributed to the correctional facilities it serves nationwide.

While the Marion County Jail and incarceration system officially surpassed its capacity of 2,507 inmates more than a week ago, with no relief in sight, the Criminal Justice Planning Council will hold a special meeting Tuesday afternoon to consider giving Superior Court judges the tools to order the emergency release of some lower risk offenders to bring the jail population back below its limit.

Marion County is not the only central Indiana community struggling with jail overcrowding issues.

The Johnson County Jail has 322 permanent beds, housed as many as 370 inmates on some nights this summer and counted 345 offenders Monday morning, according to Sheriff Doug Cox, who says while his facility is figuratively bursting at the seams, his budget is also busted.

“Where we run into problems with is food, with inmate medical, with clothing, with supplies for those inmates back in the jail, the paper products, the feminine products, so, that’s where we’re going to run into trouble.”

Dozens of inmates spend the night sleeping in blue plastic cots on the floor called “boats,” said Major Duane Burgess, jail commander, who pointed out that because of various crime and offender classification rules, not all bunks are filled.

“You’ll see some that have the beds open and some people sleeping on the floor and we can’t mix misdemeanor people with somebody in on a higher felony if somebody’s in here for a robbery,” he said. “We’re seeing more violent crimes in Johnson County, stuff that we didn’t see in the past, and its here.”

Burgess said to deal with the increasing number of offenders struggling with mental illness issues, his jail has added a fulltime medical consultant to assist those inmates.

“No matter how large your jail is or how small your jail is, we all have the same struggles.”

Last week the Johnson County Jail was home to 41 so-called 1,006 inmates:  low level felony offenders serving their state sentences in the county where they were convicted, their incarceration costs partially offset by a state stipend which doesn’t address the issue of jail bed shortages.

“When our numbers get too high to where we don’t think we can maintain control of the jail anymore, to maintain security we’ll have to move inmates to another county jail that has space that can do that, or, there’s been talk in Johnson County of analyzing the juvenile detention center to see if its needed anymore,” said Cox. “There’s been talk about maybe eliminating that building and turning that into a jail, too.”

Cox said he has no idea what would happen to Johnson County juvenile offenders if he took over their building for adult inmates.

“Unfortunately in Johnson County a few years ago there was a referendum where the voters were asked if they wanted to add 400 beds to the jail,” said Cox, “and by a four-to-one margin the voters said, ‘No,’ so I don’t know what the voters would think today if we proposed something similar.”

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