Changes in patrol priorities and employee turnover often leave the Marion County Jail in Indianapolis with an average less than one guard for every 100 prisoners, a situation that makes the facility the most dangerous jail in the state, the Indianapolis Star reports.
Without improvements, Indiana chief jail inspector Paul E. Downing says, someone will be killed. “I don’t believe there is sufficient staff to protect each other,” Downing testified in federal court last week. “There is a potential for loss of life.”
The danger simmers in a crowded jail that at times has fewer than 15 corrections officers on duty, according to the inspector. The state average is one guard per four inmates; the national figure is one for every six. The precise number of guards on patrol is so low in Marion County that jail officials and the Indiana Civil Liberties Union agreed to keep the exact figures a secret in the federal case over jail crowding. They worried that the inmates would find out.
The root of the problem remains overcrowding, the subject of a decades-old federal lawsuit. A jail with beds for 1,300 prisoners now sometimes houses nearly 1,700. Crowding and poor conditions have propelled Marion County’s jail to national attention: The U.S. Department of Justice has ranked it the country’s ninth most overcrowded facility.