Sunday, October 26, 2014

Despite Indiana's stance, Elkhart County Jail complies with federal prison rape prevention standards

Though Indiana Governor Mike Pence has said the state won’t comply with prison rape prevention standards, the Elkhart County Jail has been compliant for years.

Posted on June 20, 2014 at 6:29 a.m.

Indiana Gov. Mike Pence recently said the state wouldn’t comply with federal prison rape standards because they’re too costly — but what does that mean for inmates at the Elkhart County Jail? 

Not much, according to Elkhart County Sheriff Brad Rogers. That’s because the jail has been actively compliant with the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) since at least 2012 and has made strides to prevent sexual violence inside its walls.

“I haven’t been in all 91 jails in Indiana, but I would say that we are certainly on the cutting edge,” Rogers said Tuesday, June 19.

And while the State of Indiana stands to lose 5 percent of some DOJ grants for not complying, the Elkhart jail is largely funded with local dollars, meaning little, if any, financial impact to the jail.

“The right thing to do”

At an Elkhart County Council meeting, Saturday, June 14, Rogers requested a grant for $8,093 for purchases software and equipment to help prevent PREA violations at the jail.

"Even though Governor Pence has said that he’s not going to abide by PREA standards, we at the sheriff’s department have decided to, mainly because it’s the right thing to do and we’re able to do it,“ Rogers told the council, which unanimously approved his request. 

It also makes the jail eligible to rent out beds to federal corrections inmates – a considerable source of revenue for the county.

In 2013, the Elkhart County Sheriff’s Department received a $50,561 grant from the National PREA Resource Center, funded by the DOJ.

So far, the jail has used the money to create an orientation video for inmates, add extra cameras and install PREA-compliant software. 

Rogers said on Tuesday he doesn’t blame Pence for his decision not to comply with PREA on a state level.

"You know, as chief executive of Indiana, he has to determine whether he’s got money to do this,” Rogers said.

"I was fortunate enough as the sheriff to obtain that grant and be able to get out in front of this and do it, whereas you have some sheriffs throughout Indiana who have hardly even started,“ he said, adding Elkhart County has had several advantages including its new facility.

PREA in action

All inmates go through a PREA class with an instructor and are given pamphlets and handbooks. There are also posters around the jail explaining how to report violations.

Inmates at the Elkhart County Jail have several options to report inappropriate sexual contact, Rogers said.

These include talking to staff, making anonymous reports through an inner-jail phone system and using a kiosk designed for inmates to report grievances. 

The jail also employs investigators whose main job is to look into incidents inside the jail, including those of a sexual nature. 

"It’s things like that that we would do anyways,“ Rogers said, referring to PREA standards that don’t require extra effort or costs to follow.

The zero-tolerance policy also protects the jail from certain liabilities, he said.

“Not on my watch”

Rogers acknowledged some people feel it’s a form of “street justice” when inmates experience abuse in jail.

“Not on my watch,” he said. “We’re not going to allow that to happen if we can have any control over it.”

Sexual misconduct in the jail can still happen, though.

In May 2014, a corrections officer at the jail, Adrian Long, was arrested and charged with sexual misconduct by service provider with detainee. He confirmed in an interview with investigators that he had sexual contact with the inmate on two separate occasions.

Rogers said allegations of sexual incidents would be investigated regardless of PREA compliance, but inmates are more likely to come forward when those standards are in place.

"It gives them an opportunity in a non-intimidating venue to come to us and say something has happened, whereas before they might be inclined to hide it in fear of repercussions if they came forward,” Rogers said.

On the record

By statute, no sexual contact between an inmate and an employee or contractor is considered consensual — even if the contact is initiated by an inmate who considers it consensual, according to information from the sheriff’s department.

Consensual inmate-on-inmate sexual contact is not considered a PREA violation, but it is against facility rules and violators are dealt with on an administrative level.

In 2013, there were two substantiated reports of inmate-on-inmate sexual abuse at the jail and two substantiated reports of inmate-on-inmate harassment, according to the sheriff’s department. 

So far in 2014, there have been two substantiated reports of inmate-on-inmate sexual harassment and one substantiated report of staff misconduct.

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