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Last updated: Tue. Aug. 20, 2013 - 07:51 am EDT

ACLU says Indiana jail still overcrowded despite deal


INDIANAPOLIS — Vigo County officials continue to allow overcrowding and unsanitary conditions in the local jail despite a settlement that was reached more than 10 years ago, the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana said Monday.

Officials in the western Indiana county settled a federal lawsuit about 12 years ago by agreeing to limit the jail population to 268 inmates, the lawsuit filed late last week said, but the ACLU alleges the county hasn't lived up to the deal. As a result, a state Department of Correction audit in October found the population had swollen to 293, despite a jail expansion.

The October report described the jail as "overpopulated."

Vigo County is far from alone. ACLU legal director Ken Falk said Monday that at least 10 counties in recent years had agreed to build new jails, expand existing jails or impose population caps as part of legal settlements. Most of those suits allege the counties are violating the constitutional prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment.

"There are numerous problems caused by the chronic overcrowding," the class action lawsuit filed Friday in Vigo Superior Court said. "Among other things the cell areas are extremely dirty, with insects and black mold. The overcrowding causes increased tensions and fights on the unit. The overcrowding strains all of the Jail's resources and renders the Jail a difficult, if not unbearable, place within which to be confined."

Vigo County Jail officials hadn't seen the document and had no comment Monday, said a woman who identified herself as the sheriff's secretary. The county sheriff and commissioners are named as defendants in the complaint.

"It is futile to complain concerning the breach of the contract as the Sheriff is well aware of the chronic overcrowding of his facility," the lawsuit said.

The federal settlement also requires jail officials to allow inmates three hours of recreation time each week, which the ACLU said is not being provided.

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