Dept. of Justice finds Lake County Jail moving into compliance
By Carrie Napoleon Post-Tribune correspondent October 11, 2012 3:36PM
Updated: November 13, 2012 6:29AM
CROWN POINT — All 99 deficiencies cited by the U.S. Department of Justice in its 2010 settlement agreement with the Lake County Jail have been moved out of non-compliance.
On Thursday, county officials wrapped up a routine four-day inspection of the jail by a six-member DOJ team and learned they are moving in the right direction with changes and improvements at the jail.
“We are very happy to report every category is out of non-compliance. We are making a lot of headway. We are very pleased with what has been accomplished,” Lake County Sheriff John Buncich said.
Lake County Board of Commissioners member Gerry Scheub, D-Crown Point, agreed the inspection went very well.
“They were very satisfied. They feel the sheriff and medical staff are making very good progress,” Scheub said. He said officials hope the trend will continue, eventually ending the DOJ oversight.
Buncich said Thursday’s review was the culmination of inspections that began Monday with the DOJ team whose members included three mental health professionals, two doctors and a corrections officer. The team went through every aspect of the jail operations during the inspection. He said inspectors found significant improvement in the mental health and medical areas.
“We are getting there,” Buncich said.
The county has been grappling with paying for improvements to facilities, services and staffing mandated by the DOJ in its findings.
“We are spending money from years of neglect. In the long run we will end up saving a lot of money,” Buncich said.
The sheriff hired a new medical director in 2011, Dr. William Forgey of Merrillville, and replaced the mental health team. Buncich said those changes are paying off.
“When you get the right people in the right area, better grades occur,” Buncich said.
The Lake County Council also has agreed to hire 18 corrections officers in 2013 in a potential staffing compromise with the DOJ, which in the settlement agreement said the jail must hire 65 additional officers. Under the compromise, the DOJ will see how the jail is operating with the 18 new officers and potentially waive additional hiring requirements.
Council members also authorized up to $5 million in bonds to repair the plumbing at the jail, which was cited in the report for causing unsanitary living conditions for inmates.
Buncich said he is looking forward to getting out from under the watchful eye of the DOJ. He expects the jail could be in full compliance in the next couple of visits. DOJ inspections occur about twice a year. The next inspection is expected in April.
“The sooner we get out from under the DOJ settlement agreement, we can begin to operate the jail under the control of the sheriff,” Buncich said.