Indiana Women’s Prison accused of inhumane conditions

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INDIANAPOLIS– Pandemic Living conditions at the Indiana Women’s Prison are being called “inhumane” by some lawmakers. 

Some inmates told us they can’t go to the bathroom when they need to and they are passing out due to heat exhaustion. 

The Indiana Department of Corrections told us those reports just aren’t true. However, an Indiana Women’s Prison employee who wants to remain anonymous in fear of losing their job said there is truth to these claims. We confirmed this person’s identity but are choosing not to share it with the public.

“I’m mostly just concerned about the ladies,” said the employee. “And I feel like they are really in a dangerous situation and if something doesn’t change somebody is going to get hurt or die.”

We also talked to Darlene Edison. She has a daughter who is an inmate at the women’s prison. She’s horrified by what her daughter has been telling her over the phone.

“They wouldn’t treat a dog this way, they’d go to jail,” said Edison.

Family can’t visit prisons due to COVID-19. Edison said the precautions are putting inmates at risk. The anonymous employee agreed.

“They won’t let them out to go to the bathroom, they keep the doors locked,” said Edison.

She’s not the only one reporting these concerns; we’ve received several similar complaints and so have lawmakers including Democratic Senator J.D. Ford. 

“We are hearing that women are having accidents over there and when you do that you are documented,” explained Ford, addressing inmates not being able to go to the restroom.

The Indiana Department of Corrections said inmates can go to the restroom every 30 minutes and are allowed to leave their cell every two hours to roam the common areas. 

“It’s a lie, it’s a straight up lie just a cover up,” said Edison, after reporter Kayla Sullivan read her the IDOC’s response.

“So you’re telling me that they are still not allowing these women to go to the restroom when they want? Still to this day?” asked Sullivan.

“They are still not,” said Edison.

The employee told us these restroom reports are not false.

“I don’t believe they are getting bathroom breaks that frequently, especially throughout the night,” said the employee. “It varies a lot by who is actually working the unit; no one is watching to make sure that the guard does that.”

The IDOC said there is air conditioning in common areas but cells only have a small window. Some inmates say they’re overheating. Before the pandemic, the IDOC would keep the cell doors open so inmates could go into the common areas and the air would easily flow through the facility. However, the DOC claims locking the cell doors is best to keep inmates socially distanced during COVID-19.

“They are passing out from heat exhaustion as well as experiencing seizures,” said Sen. Ford.

The employee has witnessed the impact of the heat on inmates in person.

“I have seen vomiting, I have not personally seen seizures, but I frequently see reports of them,” said the employee.

The DOC denies this. A spokesperson told us water is available to them and medical staff is there 24 hours a day. Women are allowed to have fans in their room. Edison said she bought her daughter one but it doesn’t help in that extreme heat. 

“You cry yourself to sleep at night and you worry she’s going to die,” said Edison.

Sen. Ford is concerned locking the cell doors on the outside is a fire hazard but the fire Marshall cited a 1969 code that allows it. 

“Should there be a fire over at the facility it would take a guard a lot of time to go through and unlock all those cell doors,” said Ford.

“The doors were opened for when the fire marshal came through which was very disturbing for many people,” said the employee, when asked about the inspection.

“Are you confident that the inspectors are seeing what is really going on in there?” asked reporter Kayla Sullivan.

“No,” said the employee.

“Have you seen with your own eyes that they are changing things to look better than they actually are?” asked Sullivan.

“Yes, absolutely,” responded the employee. “I don’t believe the inspections are truly honest, I don’t.”

However, this whistleblower said they need to be.

“More frequent and more random. They say they weren’t given any time to prepare but I think they at least had enough time to open the doors,” said the employee.

Many are calling on the governor to look into and fix this. 

“They’re human beings and something needs to be done,” said Edison. “Us mothers can’t sit out here and worry like this ‘cause its killing us.

During a press conference on Tuesday, Sullivan asked democratic lawmakers to respond to the reports regarding the Indiana Women’s Prison.

State Sen. Karen Tallian is on the corrections committee. She said she sent the IDOC a letter to see what could be done to help these conditions.

“I got back a very sort of canned response that kind of says, ‘Well this is prison, this is what we do,’ and I will tell you that I am pretty appalled by the lack of response. We have basically been stonewalled by the DOC on this question and we are not getting any kind of response that we need to see,” said Tallian.

State Rep. Cherrish Pryor said what is happening at the Indiana Women’s Prison is uncalled for.

“We have made calls for there to be an early release of prisoners who may be close to finishing out their terms that would certainly alleviate part of the jail overcrowding in the prison system there are a lot of states in the nation that have moved forward to release prisoners who are almost at the end of their sentences,” said Pryor. “What is happening at the women’s prison is a testament to our lack of humanity to our people who are incarcerated and we really need to do a thorough internal search of ourselves to make sure we are taking care of those individuals.”

Here is the full statement from the IDOC on these problems at the Indiana Women’s Prison:

Health of the women at the Indiana Women’s Prison is a priority which is why medical staff are on location 24 hours a day.  Water is available to the women and they are regularly encouraged to stay hydrated.  The women have opportunities throughout the day to be out of their cell rooms and have access to restroom facilities. 

As for reports of heat in the cottages, a pre-planned air upgrade was completed toward the end of June and all cottages now have air in the common day room area.  To maximize air flow, fans are purposefully placed to move the cooler air toward the cell rooms.  Also each cell room has a window that can be opened.  Additionally the women are permitted to have fans within the cell room.

The result of the COVID-19 pandemic there have been a number of procedural changes at all Indiana Dept. of Correction facilities to help limit the opportunity for the virus to spread.  Specific to the Indiana Women’s Prison, movement within the various cottages is controlled to ensure social distancing is maintained for the health and welfare of the offenders and staff members.  Also, each day the women are permitted outdoor recreation and are able to cohort in groups of up to 25 people while participating in educational classes, life skills programming, work assignments and other pro-social activities.

Our operational decisions are measured and data driven with the goal of continuing to minimize the ongoing threat the COVID-19 virus presents to offenders and staff alike. 

For more information on how the COVID-19 virus has impacted each correctional facility, visit this link, which is updated each business day.

Margaux Auxier
Executive Director of Legislative Services, IDOC

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