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Lake County jail on track to end federal probation

Dr. William Forgey with Correctional Health Indianexplains how new intake arejail works. All individuals coming injail now receive medical psychiatric

Dr. William Forgey with Correctional Health Indiana explains how the new intake area in the jail works. All individuals coming into the jail now receive medical and psychiatric evaluations so they can be properly cared for while incarcerated. | Carrie Napoleon/For the Post-Tribune

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Updated: January 24, 2014 6:16AM

CROWN POINT ­— The Lake County Jail is slowly coming out from under the watchful eye of the Department of Justice, following its sixth inspection in three years.

Sheriff John Buncich said he will be petitioning the federal court in January to dismiss 27 of the 99 deficiencies identified by the DOJ as a result of the settlement of a 2007 lawsuit by inmates claiming inhumane conditions and inadequate healthcare. He said the DOJ will join in the motion to dismiss those deficiencies.

“We are finally getting out from under the watchful eye of the DOJ,” Buncich said.

A December 2009 DOJ Civil Rights Division report issued prior to Buncich taking office found the deficient conditions resulted in systematic violations of the constitutional rights of inmates in regard to medical and mental health care, suicide prevention and sanitary and safe living conditions.

About $30 million has been spent since the DOJ mandate to improve jail conditions, including renovations to the building and its plumbing, creating a health care area and hiring 30 more correctional officers. Buncich thanked the Lake County Council and Commissioners for providing the resources to make those upgrades.

The jail received excellent grades after the latest semi-annual inspection, completed Thursday. Buncich said inspectors found progress to be faster than anticipated. This is the third inspection in which the jail has had no areas of non-compliance. Twenty-seven areas mostly dealing with healthcare and inmate and correctional officer safety are in sustained compliance.

Twenty-nine of the areas are in substantial compliance and 43 are in partial compliance.

“(Inspectors) also made the remark we have become a model for other jails in other counties, specifically in the area of training,” Buncich said.

Inmate population is down due to quicker processing and an ankle monitoring system. Correctional officer training has increased, improving inmate and officer safety.

Thirty of 65 mandated correctional officers were added to the staff this year.

Inspectors Thursday told officials the county must immediately pay to hire the other 35 officers unless is can provide evidence it can function with a smaller staff. Buncich said he is working with Kenneth A. Ray Justice Services LLC on that report.

Wednesday, county commissioners declined to renew the $335,000 contract with the firm, which also includes the salaries for four of the doctors tasked with improving mental health care. Commissioner Gerry Scheub, D-Crown Point, said the staff should have the training now to continue to meet compliance issues.

Buncich said he will bring the contract back before the board in January.

The sheriff estimates it will take two more years before the jail is in full compliance and the mandate can be completely dismissed.

Once an area reaches compliance it must remain in that status for at least a year before it can be dismissed.

Buncich attributes the successful inspection in large part to the efforts of Dr. William Forgey and Correctional Health Indiana, the company tasked with turning the jail’s health care services around, and Kenneth A. Ray Justice Services.

Forgey said the jail takes in about 14,000 inmates a year, all of whom must have a physical and mental health screening upon intake.

In 2014 he said 886,324 individual doses of medicine will be administered to those inmates for myriad conditions from diabetes and heart disease to contagious conditions, including hepatitis C and sexually transmitted diseases.

CHI is now able to treat many conditions in-house at what is essentially a clinic within the facility, saving money.

Of the 1,925 urgent care calls so far this year, less than 120 had to be taken to an outside hospital.

“Medication costs can be exorbitant if you are not careful,” Forgey said.

He and his staff now work to find the lowest cost medication, cutting expenses.

The Lake County Jail also has become an important training facility for local health care students. Forgey has created partnerships with local universities (including Valparaiso University, Indiana University Northwest, Ivy Tech, Purdue University Calumet and Calumet College of St. Joseph) so nursing and nurse practitioner students can serve their internships in the facility.

The next semi-annual inspection is slated for May.

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