Prison (Generic)

(Source: Fox 59)

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Some lawmakers are calling living conditions at the Indiana Women's Prison during the COVID-19 pandemic "inhumane."

According to a report by Fox 59, some inmates say they can't go to the bathroom when they need to and they are passing out due to heat exhaustion.

The Indiana Department of Corrections denies those reports. However, an Indiana Women's Prison employee who wants to remain anonymous in fear of losing their job said there is truth to these claims. Fox59 confirmed this person's identity butis  choosing not to share it with the public.

"I'm mostly just concerned about the ladies," the employee said. "And I feel like they are really in a dangerous situation and if something doesn't change somebody is going to get hurt or die."

Fox59 also talked to Darlene Edison, who has a daughter who is an inmate at the women's prison. She said she's horrified by what her daughter has been telling her over the phone.

"They wouldn't treat a dog this way," she said. "They'd go to jail."

Family can't visit prisons due to COVID-19. Edison said the precautions are putting inmates at risk. The anonymous employee agreed.

"They won't let them out to go to the bathroom," Edison said. "They keep the doors locked."

She's not the only one reporting these concerns. Fox59 has received several similar complaints and so have lawmakers, including Democratic Senator J.D. Ford.

"We are hearing that women are having accidents over there, and when you do that, you are documented," said Ford, addressing inmates not being able to go to the restroom.

The Indiana Department of Corrections said inmates can go to the restroom every 30 minutes and are allowed to leave their cell every two hours to roam the common area.

"It's a lie ... just a cover-up," Edison said after Fox59 reporter Kayla Sullivan read her the IDOC's response.

"So you're telling me that they are still not allowing these women to go to the restroom when they want? Still to this day?" Sullivan asked.

"They are still not," Edison said.

The employee told Fox59 these restroom reports are false.

"I don't believe they are getting bathroom breaks that frequently, especially throughout the night," the employee said. "It varies a lot by who is actually working the unit; no one is watching to make sure that the guard does that."

The IDOC said there is air conditioning in common areas, but cells only have a small window. Some inmates said they're overheating. Before the pandemic, the IDOC would keep the cell doors open so inmates could go into the common areas and the air would easily flow through the facility. However, the DOC claims locking the cell doors is best to keep inmates socially distanced during COVID-19.

"They are passing out from heat exhaustion as well as experiencing seizures," Ford said.

The employee has witnessed the impact of heat on inmates in person.

"I have seen vomiting," the employee said, "I have not personally seen seizures, but I frequently see reports of them."

The DOC denies this, according to Fox 59. A spokesperson said water is available to them and medical staff is there 24 hours a day. Women are allowed to have fans in their room. Edison said she bought her daughter one, but it doesn't help in that extreme heat.

"You cry yourself to sleep at night and you worry she's going to die," said Edison.

Sen. Ford is concerned locking the cell doors on the outside is a fire hazard but the fire Marshall cited a 1969 code that allows it.

"Should there be a fire over at the facility it would take a guard a lot of time to go through and unlock all those cell doors," said Ford.

"The doors were opened for when the fire marshal came through which was very disturbing for many people," said the employee, when asked about the inspection.

"Are you confident that the inspectors are seeing what is really going on in there?" Sullivan asked.

"No," the employee said.

"Have you seen with your own eyes that they are changing things to look better than they actually are?" Sullivan asked.

"Yes, absolutely," the employee replied. "I don't believe the inspections are truly honest, I don't."

However, the whistleblower said they need to be.

"More frequent and more random," the employee said. "They say they weren't given any time to prepare but I think they at least had enough time to open the doors."

Many are calling on the governor to look into and fix this.

"They're human beings, and something needs to be done," Edison said. "Us mothers can't sit out here and worry like this, because it's killing us."

During a press conference Tuesday, Sullivan asked Democratic lawmakers to respond to the reports regarding the Indiana Women's Prison.

State Sen. Karen Tallian, who's on the corrections committee, said she sent the IDOC a letter to see what could be done to improve these conditions.

"I got back a very sort of canned response that kind of says, 'Well, this is prison, this is what we do.'Aand I will tell you that I am pretty appalled by the lack of response," Tallian said. "We have basically been stonewalled by the DOC on this question and we are not getting any kind of response that we need to see."

State Rep. Cherrish Pryor said what is happening at the Indian Women's Prison is uncalled for. 

"We have made calls for there to be an early release of prisoners who may be close to finishing out their terms that would certainly alleviate part of the jail overcrowding in the prison system. There are a lot of states in the nation that have moved forward to release prisoners who are almost at the end of their sentences," said Pryor. "What is happening at the women's prison is a testament to our lack of humanity to our people who are incarcerated and we really need to do a thorough internal search of ourselves to make sure we are taking care of those individuals."

Here is a full statement from the IDOC on these problems at the Indiana Women's Prison:

Health of the women at the Indiana Women’s Prison is a priority which is why medical staff are on location 24 hours a day. Water is available to the women and they are regularly encouraged to stay hydrated. The women have opportunities throughout the day to be out of their cell rooms and have access to restroom facilities.

As for reports of heat in the cottages, a pre-planned air upgrade was completed toward the end of June and all cottages now have air in the common day room area. To maximize air flow, fans are purposefully placed to move the cooler air toward the cell rooms. Also each cell room has a window that can be opened. Additionally the women are permitted to have fans within the cell room.

The result of the COVID-19 pandemic there have been a number of procedural changes at all Indiana Dept. of Correction facilities to help limit the opportunity for the virus to spread. Specific to the Indiana Women’s Prison, movement within the various cottages is controlled to ensure social distancing is maintained for the health and welfare of the offenders and staff members. Also, each day the women are permitted outdoor recreation and are able to cohort in groups of up to 25 people while participating in educational classes, life skills programming, work assignments and other pro-social activities.

Our operational decisions are measured and data driven with the goal of continuing to minimize the ongoing threat the COVID-19 virus presents to offenders and staff alike.

For more information on how the COVID-19 virus has impacted each correctional facility, visit this link, which is updated each business day."
-- Margaux Auxier, Executive Director of Legislative Services, IDOC

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