03/27/2001

Attorneys for inmates push for more jailers, Ind.

By Jerry Graff
The Indianapolis Star
March 24, 2001

(Franklin, IN) - Attorneys representing inmates in a 1997 class-action lawsuit to end overcrowding at the Johnson County Jail want more jailers hired.

"We are going to hold their feet to the fire and see if we can't pressure the County Council to get some more money on the table and get this thing staffed," said attorney Michael Sutherlin, who filed the suit with attorney Kenneth Falk.

They are prepared to ask the judge to order the hiring of additional correction officers, more commonly called jailers, if the county fails to expand the jail's staff, Sutherlin said Friday.

In response to the suit, the county spent $10 million to expand and renovate the jail, raising capacity from 104 to 317 inmates. A new wing is in use, but the renovated area isn't open yet.

In February, the council appropriated funds for four jailers, when Sheriff J.D. Richards requested 12. Richards says he will transfer eight road patrol deputies to the jail when the renovated area opens.

"It doesn't mean I like the approach the sheriff is taking, but in this case he is probably right," Sutherlin said. "In this case, he needs more people there."

Neither Tom Jones, the county's litigation attorney, nor County Attorney Joe Pitcher could be reached for comment Friday.

Councilman Brent Waltz said the council is waiting for the county's jail consultants and jail architect to meet with the sheriff and clear up how many jailers are needed.

Staffing again became an issue after inmate Michael W. McTarsney, 30, of Franklin, committed suicide by hanging himself in an isolation cell Tuesday. Three jailers oversaw more than 150 inmates at the time.

"If you don't have enough staff, no matter how modern, how big the jail is, you are still going to have some serious problems," Falk said.

Falk pointed out that in a pretrial agreement, the county indicated inmates would be given exercise daily. He said some inmates haven't been allowed exercise since last year.

"People aren't getting out for recreation," Falk said. "It's a beautiful recreation area, but you don't have enough staff to basically get the people (inmates) back and forth."

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