A citizen group’s report on the Montgomery County Jail is expected to be released Tuesday, Feb. 5, 2019. This photo shows the women’s side of the jail. TY GREENLEES / STAFF
Photo: FILE PHOTO/Staff
Photo: FILE PHOTO/Staff

Citizen group’s jail report calls for humane treatment of inmates

Committee has worked nearly two years on Montgomery County Jail issues.

A citizen committee that’s spent nearly two years reviewing Montgomery County Jail operations after several civil rights lawsuits voted to approve its report Tuesday but said it will be kept under wraps for weeks.

The Justice Advisory Committee’s report will be presented to county commissioners later this month, but the group approved a draft that examined 11 topics ranging from the physical facility, to staffing levels, command structure and training, to the use of force, as well as standards of medical and behavioral health care provided in the jail.

While the document won’t be made public until a Feb. 26 county commission meeting, committee member Rev. David Fox said the report’s goal was to make sure everyone in the jail was treated “in a manner befitting any of our family members or ourselves if we are in that situation.”

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“This document is going to show what we need for our individuals that go into jail and are not guilty of anything other than just being in jail until they are adjudicated inside the court system,” Fox said. “That means that the way they should be treated is humane.”

At least 14 lawsuits alleging the mistreatment of inmates have been filed in recent years, including since March 2017 when the advisory committee was formed. A federal class-action lawsuit filed last July alleged overcrowding and in December an inmate filed a suit naming as defendants, the county’s board of commissioners, former Sheriff Phil Plummer, as well as the man she claims sexually assaulted her in jail, former corrections officer Franco R. Villella.

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Rabbi Bernard Barsky, a co-chair of the committee, said the group has been criticized for taking too long, but the time was needed to process many other reports received from an outside professional jail consultant, CGL Companies, and then synthesis those into final recommendations.

“One of our primary goals — one of the many — was to make sure this was an objective, factual report. There is nothing in here that praises or blames. That was not part of our task,” Barsky said. “We looked at systems, at policies, at processes. We removed any subjective judgments that CGL might have made — their impressions of the sheriff’s staff or the problems in the operations of the jail — positive or negative.”

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Montgomery County and its insurers have paid a price defending and settling lawsuits related to the jail. Already above $1 million last year, the county and its insurers will pay $3.5 million this year to the family of Robert A. Richardson Sr., who died in 2012 while handcuffed face down in the jail.

Richardson was in jail for not appearing for a court hearing related to unpaid child support. He would have been released if $2,500 had been posted on his behalf, according to court documents.

Montgomery Common Pleas Court Judge Gregory Singer, a committee member, said the final recommendations will better guide jail staff in the care of inmates.

“We have taken an opportunity in this report to especially point out the treatment of some of the more marginalized members of our community … who are perhaps not afforded the kind of humane treatment that we’d like to see,” Singer said. “And we also include some of our racial and ethnic groups that we’d like to see have some improvements made in the jail.”

MORE: Jail overcrowding lawsuit leads Montgomery County to hire outside counsel for sheriff

Rob Streck, the county’s new sheriff, said he plans to “take this report to heart.”

“I want to assure you when the final report is in I will sit down, will read it over and over and get my highlighter out.”

But the sheriff said much in the report won’t come as a surprise after his own analysis of the jail’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats.

“We knew what problems we had. We knew what issues we had,” he said. “The good thing is this group has put some backing behind that and I think a lot of people are going to be able to see that.”

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