Vigo County sheriff transfers prisoners after suit

By KEN KUSMER
Associated Press

INDIANAPOLIS — A western Indiana sheriff facing a new lawsuit over jail overcrowding transferred 45 prisoners to another jail but remained under scrutiny Wednesday by the organization suing him.

Vigo County Sheriff Greg Ewing said he ordered the transfers Tuesday night from his lockup in Terre Haute to the Knox County Jail in Vincennes while his staff worked to reduce the number of prisoners it holds.

The county settled a federal lawsuit about 12 years ago by agreeing to limit the jail population to 268 inmates, but the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana said in a new lawsuit last week that the county was not abiding by the deal. An Indiana Department of Correction audit last October found that the Vigo jail population had swollen to 293, or 25 over the limit.

Ewing said the transfer was a temporary solution while he worked with judges, the county prosecutor and community corrections on a more permanent fix.

“It is very frustrating that we had to make this emergency move but I cannot help it. Our facility is full and we don’t have inmates like Otis the town drunk.” Ewing said in a news release, referring to a character of “The Andy Griffith Show” of the 1960s who routinely locked himself up on his own after binges.

“We are investigating some options with community corrections but those programs require the offender to pay their own way and that is where some of the problems lie. ... They just don’t have the money,” Ewing said.

ACLU attorney Ken Falk said he was happy to see Vigo County addressing the overcrowding.
“This is a very short-term solution. We look forward to seeing a long-term solution,” Falk said by phone.

The ACLU’s lawsuit, which was filed Friday in Vigo Superior Court, contends that cell areas were extremely dirty, with insects and black mold, and that the overcrowding causes increased tensions and fights among prisoners.

“The overcrowding strains all of the Jail’s resources and renders the Jail a difficult, if not unbearable, place within which to be confined,” the complaint said.

The 12-year-old settlement required jail officials to allow inmates three hours of recreation time each week, which the ACLU said was not being provided.




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