News From Terre Haute, Indiana

August 20, 2013

ACLU sues Vigo sheriff and commissioners

Complaint claims unsanitary conditions, overcrowding persist at county jail

Lisa Trigg
The Tribune-Star

TERRE HAUTE — A class action complaint has been filed against the Vigo County sheriff and commissioners concerning overcrowded inmate conditions in the Vigo County Jail.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana announced Monday that it filed the lawsuit late last week on behalf of Aaron Hos and other jail inmates. The suit also claims that the jail is unsanitary and that the inmates are not allowed at least three hours of recreation per week.

While the case has been filed in Vigo Superior Court 1, a hearing had not been scheduled on the court’s calendar as of Monday afternoon.

Also as of Monday afternoon, copies of the lawsuit had not reached Sheriff Greg Ewing, the Vigo County Commissioners or county attorney Michael Wright.

“Once we receive it,” Ewing said of the lawsuit, “we will evaluate its merits.”

The complaint refers to a 2002 agreement reached to settle a 2000 class action lawsuit that also claimed jail overcrowding. The settlement set the jail capacity at 268 inmates, and noted that inmates were to be allowed a minimum of three hours of recreation outside their immediate cell areas each week. The Hos lawsuit claims that the jail regularly exceeds the 268 limit, and that inmates are not allowed the minimum recreation time.

A copy of an October 2012 jail inspection report by the Indiana Department of Correction is included in the complaint. The report notes that the jail population was 293 inmates on the inspection date, and that census exceeded the rated capacity by 26 inmates. It states that inmate Hos is housed “in a cell block that has four beds that currently houses five prisoners, and has, at times, housed nine prisoners.”

The complaint also states that the cell areas are “extremely dirty, with insects and black mold.”

The ACLU news release stated that the agreement reached to settle the earlier suit is a binding contract that has now been breached.

“Making sure those in charge of our state prisons and jails comply with orders to remedy abuses is part of the ACLU of Indiana’s work to reform our criminal justice system and end over-incarceration,” said Jane Henegar, ACLU of Indiana executive director.

 Reporter Lisa Trigg can be reached at 812-231-4254 or lisa.trigg@tribstar.com.