State legislation could cause jail overcrowding in Monroe

A House bill making its way through the Indiana legislature could squeeze already limited space for inmates in the Monroe County Jail.

House Bill 1006 would funnel state dollars to county corrections programs and make it more difficult for circuit courts to send felons to prison. On April 14 the Indiana Senate unanimously approved the bill, which would allow for $80 million in local programs including mental health and addiction services for low-level offenders. The legislative session ends Wednesday.

The bill is the latest in a series of state legislation shifting responsibilities from state prisons to county jails. It would provide funding in response to changes to the state ?criminal code, which could lead to more inmates in jail rather than prison. According to these new rules, as of June 2015, no one convicted of a level 6 felony can be sent to prison if his or her sentence is for less than a year.

Judge Kenneth Todd, a Monroe County circuit court judge, said he thinks these changes could mean the county will have to deal with 140 more offenders per year than it would normally. Bill Wilson, the former Monroe County jail commander, said he thinks that estimate is ?conservative.

“I think they are really going to feel the squeeze,” Wilson said.

Data collected by the Indiana Daily Student shows that each year during the past five years the jail has faced a growing number of days with higher populations.

Jail overcrowding in Monroe County has been a constant since a class-action lawsuit on overpopulation was filed against the sheriff’s office in 2008.

At the height of this legal scrutiny, inmates were sleeping on the jail’s gymnasium floor.

Trevor Richardson, who had been confined in the jail for six months, got the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana to take his case. In the original filing, Richardson complained conditions in the jail were “inhumane, unsanitary, dangerous and harsh.”

Overcrowding was causing serious sanitation and security issues, according to court documents.

The ACLU and the Monroe County Sheriff came to an agreement intended to ensure the jail population does not exceed its number of beds. The settlement has been routinely renewed, most recently in ?October 2014.

There are 248 general population beds in the jail, but inmates in certain areas, such as the drunk tank, are not included. The average population was recorded as 253 in 2014, but not every inmate recorded would have occupied a bed.

The agreement states when the jail reaches 244 inmates occupying beds, it must contact the circuit court judges, who are then tasked with releasing certain inmates. They must determine which inmates pose the smallest threat to the community in order to free up space.

Population levels have been nearing this limit since the agreement, and community members wonder if changes to the criminal code could bring inmate numbers over the edge.

Even now, Rick Naftzger said he thinks overcrowding in the jail is severe. Naftzger has been in the jail for short stays on and off since 2006, and his most recent stay was for a few weeks in late 2014. He said there were probably 13 inmates sleeping on cots on the cell block floor.

“It’s always been overcrowded for as long as I can remember,” Naftzger said.

County authorities have done what they can to address the issue, but resources are limited, Todd said. He said he thinks overcrowding will create fundamental problems with the entire ?correctional system.

“It’s a constant struggle for us to monitor the jail population,” Todd said. “It becomes more and more difficult as time goes on.“

Wilson said the Sheriff’s Association found through recent surveys that ?populations in Indiana’s big and small jails have been decreasing. For reasons Wilson said he could not explain, the survey found medium-sized jails in Indiana, like the Monroe County Jail, are the ones seeing population increases.

The jail has some capability to reorganize its inmates to reduce the pressures of overcrowding. In some cell blocks, there are extra mattresses in plastic tubs, called Stack-A-Bunks, that meet state standards.

James Roberts was an inmate in Monroe County Jail from February 2014 to February 2015. Roberts always had his own bed in a cell, but he said overcrowding was a constant problem.

“Usually they have a little bunk for you where you can lay on the floor,” ?Roberts said.

Because inmates are exposed sleeping on the floor, Roberts said they often get kicked in the head, or their belongings are stolen while they were asleep or away.

The money provided by HB 1006 aims to make up for increased pressure on the jails, but Todd said he wouldn’t commit to spending a dollar of state money until he saw it.

“The money that turns up is a fraction of what we need,” Todd said.

The alternative is to keep lower-level offenders out of the jail. However, the county is getting to the point where it has no place to put its offenders, Todd said.

People are starting to realize this, which makes it more difficult for Todd to enforce his decisions in court.

“We’re getting people in court now saying, ‘I don’t know why you’re arresting me, you can’t put me in jail,’” Todd said.

Todd said there is not a clear path to fixing the problem of overcrowding. No one is motivated to build a new jail, he said, but some members of the community have been advocating for a minimum-security community corrections center for years. He envisions a facility separate from the jail, designed to deal with lower-level ?offenders.

The resources are still lacking, and Todd thinks there is not enough community awareness to support such a project.

“The bricks and mortar aren’t the issue,” Todd said. “The issue is the county’s ability to fund the operational expense of such a facility.”

Without any new facilities or means of dealing with lower-level offenders, Todd said he expects the problem of jail overcrowding will only get worse in the ?coming years.

“It’s going to get to be a more and more significant problem,” Todd said. “Eventually it’s going to have to be addressed in some way.”


When inmates need help

The jail is becoming Monroe County's new mental health hospital. With Sunday's suicide, it's apparent some inmates are falling through the cracks.

The jail had a perfect record. For almost 30 years, there were no suicides.

When two correctional officers rushed into Jeffrey Dugan Jr.’s jail cell at 11:30 p.m. Sunday, the streak of success was broken. He was hanging by a noose made from pieces of his mattress top. The officers lowered his body and tried to resuscitate the 33-year-old, Sheriff Brad Swain said, but the man was already dead.

Before the incident, no one suspected anything. Dugan’s fellow inmates said he seemed fine, though he had just broken up with his girlfriend.

Attempts are common in the jail setting, but since 1986, they have all been unsuccessful, Swain said. All the right steps were being taken to prevent suicides. Monroe County Jail administration even exceeded expectations when it hired a full-time psychologist to handle mental health issues in the jail.

Don Weller counseled hundreds of inmates for suicide in his first year working as the jail’s counselor. Jail officers screen inmates carefully when they are booked, trying to determine who might be at risk.

But some slip through the cracks.

‘The new mental health hospitals’

Jails are intended to deter people from committing crimes, not act as mental health hospitals. But in Monroe County, now more than ever, people experiencing mental illness are winding up in jail, blurring the line between healing and punishment.

Power holders of the correctional community - the jail commander, a public defender, a circuit court judge and others - can’t pin down why they are seeing so many inmates who experience mental illness. They can’t be expected to, with no way of tracking the population, no checkbox for a jail officer to mark “mentally ill.”

Before 2013 there were routes available to jail officers when an inmate reached crisis level, but there was little the jail staff could do to manage problems on a daily basis. The Monroe County Jail commander knew something had to be done. Wary of a potential lawsuit, he found a partial fix. He hired Weller full-time.

In his first year alone, Weller saw 1,180 inmates for mental health concerns, an amount which represents about 20 percent of people booked into the jail annually.

A U.S. Bureau of Justice study found 64 percent of local jail inmates have a mental disorder, a higher rate than both state and federal prisons. Weller puts the current estimate for Monroe County between 35 and 40 percent, though he said the guess might be low.

Inmates sometimes struggle to get the prescriptions they need or think they need. Many are overcoming substance abuse. Far too often, they are not fully aware Weller can help.

“Unfortunately,” Weller said, “jails are becoming the new mental health hospitals.”

Suicide in the jail

The jail prides itself on its system of training officers, monitoring inmates and flagging people at risk of committing suicide.

Preventing suicide in jails is never easy, said Melissa Caldwell, director of mental health services for Advanced Correctional, the healthcare provider contracted for the Monroe County Jail. Suicides can happen quickly. If an inmate tries to hang himself, it takes only three minutes for brain damage and five minutes for the person to die.

“We work with such a high-risk population, the odds are against us,” Caldwell said.

Still, she thinks Monroe County excels in its progressive attitude of caring for inmates. Caldwell said it’s not uncommon for jails the size of Monroe County’s to have a suicide once a year.

Bloomington resident Daniel Cooper said he was booked into the Monroe County Jail for getting into a fight about two years ago. After a couple days in the jail’s drunk tank, Cooper said he got rowdy with the jail officers. The officers had to confine him, which landed him in a padded segregation cell.

That was when Cooper took off his socks. He tied them together and pretended to hang himself off the cell’s ceiling vent. He said he wasn’t serious about the attempt, but he spent a week in the padded cell before a nurse came to see him. They had a brief conversation — she asked him whether he intended to kill himself, and Cooper said no.

Though Weller was not on staff when Cooper was in jail, he said the staff will take suicide attempts seriously, even feigned attempts like Cooper’s.

In the two most recent unsuccessful suicide attempts, he and the medical staff did not suspect the two inmates would try to commit suicide. The first time, an inmate made a noose and then reached out for help. In the second instance, a jail officer stopped the attempt within three minutes.

Most inmates experiencing mental illness will not attempt suicide. Sometimes, it’s the people who seem perfectly healthy — people like Dugan — who the jail staff don’t realize need the most help.

The Monroe County Jail ordered an unusually high number of psychoactive drugs in 2014 compared to the previous four years. Psychoactive drugs in medicine are used to treat mental and emotional disorders. For the first time in five years the jail ordered more psychoactive medications than blood pressure prescriptions. However, some blood pressure medications can be used to treat anxiety or related disorders.

Prescribing drugs

The jail is accommodating unusually high numbers of mental health concerns, data collected by the Indiana Daily Student suggests. Last year marked a five-year high in the number of mental health-related medications ordered by the jail.

For the first time since 2010, the jail ordered more psychoactive medications than blood pressure

If an inmate already has a prescription when they are booked, they should be able to get it in jail. Still, inmate complaint records show grievances about the jail’s medical services are all too common. For the past five years medical complaints were the most common grievance filed by inmates.

“I need my medicine,” one inmate wrote in 2011. “I am getting sick, headaches and weak. I will contact my lawyer soon if I don’t receive my medicine.”

Another inmate complained in 2010 he was not receiving his prescribed medications in the jail, despite the urgency of his medical situation. The inmate identified himself as having a mental health concern.

Weller said the jail usually won’t give antidepressants to someone who has never had a prescription.

Substance abuse in county jails is estimated to be as high as 90 percent. Because of this, Caldwell said care providers are encouraged to be conservative when prescribing medications for mental and emotional disorders, which are addictive in nature.

People booked into jails might appear to be battling mental illness, while in reality they could be recovering from drug or alcohol abuse. Mental illness and substance abuse often intermix.

For many, the jail serves as a stable place to detoxify and rehabilitate.

Weller knows the administration is concerned that if prescriptions are handed out, everyone will want medications they don’t have prescriptions for. He also knows the inmates with the most profound mental health problems are usually not the ones asking for medications.

If someone remembers being uncomfortable in jail, there is a better chance they won’t re-offend. But as the inmates’ counselor, Weller wonders whether offering some medication might take the edge off the frustration, sadness or anxiety someone might feel in the jail.

He did not agree with the decision to deny a prescription to a 32-year-old man who he suspects has had depression all his life.

Stereotypes of medical staffs in jails might suggest they are uncaring and reluctant to prescribe medications. But Caldwell feels most medical staffs in jails are cautious with prescriptions because most medications, even painkillers like Advil, come with serious side effects.

“We are very conscientious prescribers,” Caldwell said.

Jails can serve as places to keep people safe and help them recover from their maladies, and Weller understands the jail staff members have the difficult task of weighing peoples’ pain against their medical

“It’s a balance between the stick and a soft landing place,” Weller said.

Identifying inmates who need help

Weller has been working in the jail for about seven years, although only one in his capacity as the jail’s full-time psychologist. In his first year, the jail has begun new methods of identifying inmates who might need help for mental health concerns.

Since April 2014 there has been a series of questions jail officers ask inmates when they are booked into the jail. The officer will fill out a survey for each inmate.

“Is Thinking about Killing Himself,” is one category. A second, “Feels That There is Nothing to Look Forward to in the Future.” Another, “Is Acting and/or Talking in a Strange Manner.”

If someone is flagged from these questions, Weller will come to see them. There are other reasons Weller will visit inmates. The medical staff might suggest it, or if they are in one of the jail’s segregation cells, commonly used for people who are sick or experiencing mental illness, he will visit them at least once a week. They can also self-request a visit.

Sometimes Weller struggles to reconcile his tendency to be the “touchy feely psychologist” and the employee of a county jail. He likes the inmates, and they usually like him.

On one occasion, an inmate even crafted a figurine of Weller’s guide dog, Lorenzo, out of toilet paper and coffee grounds. Lorenzo assists Weller, who has been confined to a wheelchair since a bike accident in 1989. The little sculpture of the doe-eyed yellow lab sits on the desk in Weller’s office.

The counselor has learned these people are on the radar of the law for some reason. Inmates come to jail because of their own decisions, he said.

Counseling a man with six or seven counts of child molestation, for example, can be a struggle. Weller sees the man once a week. He said he likes the man, but he knows he’s done some awful things.

Still, everyone deserves to be treated with dignity and respect, Weller said, and part of his job in the jail is to advocate for people who cannot advocate for themselves.

Not every person with a mental illness in the jail is going to get Weller’s help. Sometimes they don’t know he’s available. More often though, people with mental illness don’t seek out help

Slipping through the cracks

When Weller came to see Susan Lyons inside the jail, she didn’t want to see a counselor.

Lyons told the IDS she was approached by Weller during one of her short stints in the jail. Weller was not asked to comment on Lyons' situation because of patient confidentiality. 

She struggles with dementia and schizophrenia, she said. Ninety percent of her memories are gone. Lyons has no recollection of some of the men she dated, and she remembers little about the last time she was arrested.

She knows the police picked her up because she was being too loud — she is frustrated about not having a home despite being sober for five years.

“I’m tired,” Lyons said. “It’s not like I’m not living in reality, I’m just pissed off.”

The pressure can get to be too much, and sometimes she has an emotional outburst. It’s then that the police show up. Lyons has been in the jail for misdemeanor charges several times in recent years.

Lyons was annoyed when Weller came to see her. She told him she didn’t need to see a psychologist. Yet she said she hasn’t seen a counselor from Centerstone, Bloomington’s behavioral healthcare provider, nor is she on any kind of prescription for her mental health concerns.

It can be hard to engage people with untreated problems like Lyons’. 

Weller said the sort of people who don’t want treatment are usually the most unstable and the ones that cycle through the justice system.

The community could benefit from more resources to handle mental illnesses, said Kenneth Todd, one of Monroe County’s circuit court judges.

While Monroe County has long been perceived as a state leader in finding alternatives to deal with mental illnesses, some people — like Dugan and Lyons ­­­— have problems that never come to light.

“We’ve closed our eyes and turned our backs on the mentally ill to the point that there’s virtually no resources to deal with them, and it’s getting worse every year,” Todd said.

During the winter months, Lyons said people in the homeless community might envy those spending time in the jail. She has even thought about being loud on purpose just so she would have somewhere quiet and warm to go.

“That’s the safest place to be, is inside the jail cell,” Lyons said. “No one can get in there.”

Beyond the jail

Unless the community can do something to keep people out of trouble and get treatment for the people who need it, the reality for the jail won’t change.

Every year, county corrections has to do a little more to meet the needs of people with a mental illness who have been caught up in the law. This year they’re working on renovating storage space into a few extra cells specifically for mentally ill inmates.

As the inmates’ counselor, Weller’s role is to ensure people in the jail are getting the care they need while they are locked up. Perhaps like any psychologist, he still thinks about how his past patients are doing.

He tries to empower them to seek help outside the jail. If they do, there’s a much better chance of not coming back.

“You hope for the best and trust that they’ll find the help they need,” Weller said.

After they leave, they are out of his hands.

This article has been updated to clarify the nature of Weller's relationships with his patients, and to clarify that Weller did not speak to the IDS about Lyons. 


Staying afloat

Preventative court tackles mental illness in the justice system

A group of about 10 people sat under the fluorescent courtroom lights, waiting to speak to the judge. They had all been in trouble with the law and were all facing inner battles with mental illness.

They had been given a chance to rehabilitate through Mental Health Court under the guidance of Judge Kenneth Todd.

On that rainy morning in February, the preventative court was only in its first month.

Mental Health Court is meant to ensure that people struggling with mental health concerns make their meetings, take medications and find a secure living situation.

Monroe County has done what it can to address an increasing number of mental health-related cases in the justice system; the new preventative court is the latest of these attempts.

Todd just cannot be sure that it will work.


Mental Health Court usually starts at 8 a.m., but that Tuesday morning, Todd was late. The participants chatted idly to pass the time. They talked about boyfriends or girlfriends, new apartments and fresh tattoos. A bored-looking officer popped his ?bubblegum.

When the judge arrives, one of the first to be called to his bench is a young man in a faded blue shirt. Soft-spoken and polite, James Roberts explains his living situation to Todd. Roberts has schizophrenia, and it had only been two weeks since he was released after a year in jail.

Nothing about jail was easy. Although he was able to get his medications during his stay, he said the drugs hardly helped. He felt like there was no air to breathe.

During his year in jail, he saw many of the same people come and go. Those with a mental illness oftentimes didn’t know how to help themselves, Roberts said.

When Roberts came to jail, he decided it would be his last stay. He had been locked up before and couldn’t do it anymore. He comes from bad circumstances in Indianapolis, he says, and now he deserves better.

“There were some things I went through that I shouldn’t have to go through anymore,” Roberts said.

Now, his housing is uncertain. For the moment, he’s staying in a rehab center run by Centerstone, Bloomington’s behavioral healthcare provider.

Todd is pleased with Roberts’ progress. The rest of the participants give him a hearty round of applause.

But not everyone does as well as Roberts. Of the 10 to 12 people enrolled, Todd said three have already had significant issues in the first two weeks.

Jeremy, one of the court participants, has gotten off track with his group meetings. Todd is concerned he is living in a cheap motel where many people battling addiction stay. He instructed Jeremy to find a new place to live.

“Jeremy,” Todd said. “You’re like a roller coaster.”


Bloomington has never been a “nail ’em and jail ’em” sort of community, Todd said. He said he thinks Monroe County has long been perceived as a state leader in trying to find alternatives to incarceration.

Monroe County has a well-established Drug Treatment Court, which serves as the model for the new Mental Health Court. Dealing with people who are experiencing mental illness is a different kind of beast than dealing with drug addicts.

“There is not nearly as much research available, nor is there any established protocol for dealing with the mentally ill,” Todd said.

Motivating people to be compliant is always hard, and that most of the participants are homeless or struggling to find housing doesn’t help.

David Carrico, director of adult recovery at Centerstone, said Monroe County attracts homeless people because Bloomington is known to have better resources than many surrounding counties.

Centerstone is heavily dependent on Medicaid, but will often treat people even if they don’t have healthcare coverage.

A lack of resources is a challenge in most places, even Bloomington. Mental health courts depend on community organizations like Centerstone in order to function.

“Compared to a lot of other communities, we’ve got a lot of resources,” Todd said. “Compared to what we need, we don’t have nearly enough.”

In an ideal world, Roberts would have his own apartment and a job where he can work with his hands, he said. But with a felony on his record, that might not be so easy.

Outside the jail, Roberts does what he can to stay positive. More than anything, he wants to gain back his ?independence.

For the time being, he needs to make his meetings, stay away from the substances that got him in trouble and keep his schizophrenia ?under control.

In the meantime, he walks on the B-line trail and outplays everyone on his YMCA basketball team. Working his muscles helps to clear his head.

Sometimes he writes lyrics, too. Roberts hasn’t written them down anywhere. They’re just in his head.

“I’m ready to act cool/ they know me, I don’t need no crew/ what it be like, see me in the streets like a beast like/ coming from the gutter gotta eat like/ hold on ?tight ...”

Mental Health Court convenes again, and Roberts is doing better than ever. He is in a class to earn his GED and is working on applying for a job. Maybe soon he can get into his own apartment and move out of Amethyst House.

Todd tells him every week he’s proud.

“You see the value of doing this, and you’re working hard at doing the right things,” Todd tells Roberts. “There’s not too much we can do to recognize folks who do well here.”

Still, he has a gift for Roberts to recognize him for his hard work — a voucher so he won’t have to pay for his next urine screen.

When Jeremy comes back to Mental Health Court, this time it’s in an orange jumpsuit. Jail is not agreeing with him.

“I’m going through straight torture in my head,” he said.

The judge prompts Jeremy to remember why they had to send him back to jail.

“Because I had possession of someone else’s prescription medications,” Jeremy said.

Todd isn’t satisfied.

“It’s to try to help you wind up in a better situation,” Todd said. “Everyone here has reached out a hand to you.”