INDIANAPOLIS — A Howard County Jail inmate has filed a lawsuit in Indianapolis federal court, claiming that the jail’s conditions, as well as overcrowding, “result in the denial of basic human needs” for all of the county’s inmates.
Michael Johnston, represented by the ACLU of Indiana, filed a lawsuit on Thursday against the Howard County sheriff and the county itself surrounding the jail’s conditions. The class action lawsuit, filed in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Indiana Indianapolis division, is aimed to include all the individuals currently confined in the jail, or those who will be in the future.
The basis of the lawsuit surrounds the portion of the Indiana state code, which states a sheriff is required to “take care of the county jail and the prisoners there,” something that the lawsuit alleges that Howard County is not doing.
As of the lawsuit’s filing, officials said the jail has 364 permanent beds, but claim that the jail houses more than 364 prisoners at a time. This results in more people being assigned to cells than there are permanent beds.
“The ‘extra’ prisoners must sleep on the floors of the cells because the permanent beds are occupied,” the lawsuit said. “…There simply is insufficient room in the cells when there are more people occupying them than there are permanent beds: accommodating prisoners who are sleeping on the floor means that space is no longer usable for prisoners to move about the cells.”
The lawsuit claims this overcrowding causes “tension,” leading to frequent assaults and fights involving the prisoners. The lawsuit said that the jail staff does not adequately supervise the prisoners or conduct required walkthroughs. There are portions of the jail that cannot be observed by cameras. The lawsuit also states that prisoner violence against jail staff also frequently occurs.
Because of the jail’s age, the lawsuit also claims that there are frequent water leaks in the cells. The overcrowding has also led to prisoners not receiving adequate recreation time.
Specifically to Johnston’s experience, the lawsuit claims that he slept on the floor in his cell for 45 days because two bunks were occupied. Johnston has also reportedly experienced water leaking into his cell, causing his mattress to be put on a wet floor.
The lawsuit said Johnston is “forced to conduct his daily prayers by the toilet as the cell block is too crowded to do it anywhere else.”
“This violates his religious beliefs as his prayers must occur in a space that is clean,” the lawsuit reads. “Staff has instructed Muslim prisoners that they cannot pray in the day rooms.”
Through this lawsuit, Johnston said he is concerned “not only for his own safety, but for the safety of other prisoners” who are impacted by the jail’s conditions.
“The lack of recreation, the overcrowding and the lack of adequate staff supervision have caused, and continues to cause, tension and dangerous conditions in the blocks where Mr. Johnston has been housed and where he continues to be housed,” the lawsuit reads.
Ultimately, the lawsuit alleges that the county and the sheriff have failed in their respective duties to maintain the jail in a constitutional manner. The lawsuit is asking for a Howard County judge to declare that the actions violate the United States Constitution and require the defendants to make sure that the conditions comply with the constitution.