INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. — Marion County Sheriff John Layton said he became aware last week of an exploding drug problem inside of Jail II under the control of Corrections Corporation of America, a private jail operator.
That’s why he assigned 40 sheriff’s deputies to conduct a five-hour long shakedown of the privately run facility at 730 East Washington Street Friday night.
Deputies have been back twice more this weekend after drugs and at least one cell phone were discovered, though Layton could not confirm reports that weapons were also found.
One offender died of a suspected drug overdose after apparently swallowing a balloon full of heroin during the search.
“We don’t know all the answers,” Layton told Fox 59 News, “but we don’t put up with this trafficking stuff.
“We have a problem and it’s obvious that there is a problem at CCA that needs to be addressed.
“We got on it immediately and we’re keeping the pressure on.
“We’re going to charge somebody hopefully.”
Layton could not speculate whether offenders, outsiders or CCA employees were responsible for the smuggling of drugs and rumored weapons into the facility.
The fatal overdose of Nicholas Grant, 27, was, “an unfortunate deal directly connected to the fact that we were hitting the place at the time,” said Layton.
The sheriff said he would meet with his staff, CCA administrators and IMPD investigators Monday morning to examine security needs at the facility in advance of a press briefing later this week.
One military veteran said he felt safer in Iraq than inside Jail II and resigned his job there as a corrections officer after just two months this past summer.
“I know the inmates have a way of cutting holes in the windows,” said Gabe Frost. “You can easily get a firearm through there. While I was there, there was drugs coming in through the window.”
Frost said Jail II was chronically short-staffed.
“While I was there we had staff coming in from other facilities to assist,” he said. “I know that drugs were snuck in then. Once the warden found out, those employees were immediately dismissed. They were sent back to their normal facility for terminations.
“When I was working there, there was a report that a gun had been snuck in. Warden (Jeff) Conway locked the entire building down for approximately a week while we were going through and shaking everything down,” said Frost, “and literally just turned the dorm upside down locking for drugs, weapons, anything illegal.”
Conway told Fox 59 News during a hiring campaign in July that the staff-to-offender ratio was 1:5.3.
Frost said he quit CCA because he was often outnumbered, alone and intimidated while working in the open dorm environment.
“I would believe 150 to one during my time at CCA,” he said, “but not five to one.”
One mother told Fox 59 News that CCA hired her son, whose physical capabilities were severely limited due to cerebral palsy, to be a corrections officer on the floor.
Fox 59 News has learned of two other undetermined health related issues that sent offenders from Jail II to Methodist Hospital in the last month.
Joseph Armanno said another offender called him eight days ago to explain that his son Joey had overdosed.
Armanno said he has been unsuccessful in receiving confirmation of his son’s condition from either MCSO, CCA or Methodist Hospital.
“He told me there are more drugs in there than on the streets,” said Armanno. “He said you can buy a cell phone for $300.”
Krystal Perkinson said she has also been unable to confirm information regarding her brother David’s medical condition which, family members said, has left him on life support systems.
“Both of the individuals you refer to are now in the custody of MCSO,” wrote CCA Spokesman Jonathan Burns in response to a Fox 59 News inquiry. “We encourage you to reach out to them for more information.”
MCSO Spokeswoman Katie Carlson indicated Grant’s death was, “not the result of violence or suicide.”
CCA used the same language to describe Perkinson’s medical distress.
Marion County contracts with CCA at a cost of nearly $10 million a year to operate Jail II in a ten year deal that is set to expire at the end of 2017.
Mayor Joe Hogsett is on track to announce by the end of this year his plans for construction of a new jail and sheriff’s office and reforms of the criminal justice system which may not include outsourcing to a private operator such as CCA.
CCA’s business model suffered a major financial blow this summer when the U.S. Department of Justice announced it was in the process of ending the company’s operations of 13 federal prisons.
“They simply do not provide the same level of correctional services, programs, and resources; they do not save substantially on costs; and as noted in a recent report by the Department’s Office of Inspector General, they do not maintain the same level of safety and security,” wrote Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates.
Armanno said the only information he has received regarding his son’s condition is from another inmate inside Jail II and from an attorney who visited Joey Armanno in the hospital to find him in a coma.
“I would think I would have some kind of right to know what his condition is and it’s just like they’re trying to cover it up,” he said.
“It’s like an unbelievable movie that you see on TV that you couldn’t believe except this ain’t a movie.”
The Marion County Criminal Justice Planning Council will meet to consider the latest jail crowding figures from Layton’s staff at 4 p.m. on Monday.