This post is the second in a series investigating conditions in the Vanderburgh County Detention Center from the perspective of people incarcerated there. Posts are compiled here. Identifying details have been omitted to protect our sources when they wish to remain anonymous.
Julius (name changed) has been confined at the Vanderburgh County Detention Center for over 6 months. Because of a chronic medical condition, he stays in the medical unit--his complaints about which include staying in his cell for 24 hours a day, interacting with "overworked," "nasty," and "mean" correctional officers, paying fees for sick calls and medicine, and his grievances and complaints "fall[ing] on deaf ears."
Unlike most county jail detainees who are awaiting trial, Julius has already been sentenced. Sentences are typically served at state-run facilities, but people like Julius who are charged with level 6 felonies (the lowest level) serve their time in county jails. Julius has a 2.5-year sentence, half of which will be served in jail.
Julius mentions twice in his letter that the cost for a medical visit is $15 and prescriptions are an additional $15. The maximum co-pay at state prisons (according to Indiana Code 11-10-3-5) is $10; however, county facilities such the Vanderburgh County Detention Center set their own co-pay policies and do not have to follow this regulation (according to 210 Indiana Administrative Code 7-1-1). The higher cost is particularly unfair for prisoner like Julius, who would be paying less if he were serving his sentence in a state-run facility instead of a county one. Not only are those incarcerated in the Vanderburgh County Detention Center unable to earn money through underpaid prison labor as might be possible at a state-run facility, they also must pay more for medical care than prisoners in state facilities, which burdens their financial supporters on the outside.
In a follow-up letter dated February 16, 2018, Julius clarified that even for chronic conditions like his, inmates must pay for each prescription and sick call. This, too, contradicts the Indiana Administrative Code regarding IDOC prisoners, which states, "There shall be no co-payment for renewal of chronically prescribed medication following the initial prescription of the medication" (210 IAC 7-2-3). Again, county jails housing IDOC prisoners are not required to follow the regulation. Julius said he had been paying $70 per month for his prescriptions but is now paying $45.
Julius also offers an prisoner perspective on Vanderburgh County's push to remodel and/or expand the county jail. The jail, which is only 11 years old, is required to produce a plan to correct 6 code violations, including overcrowding, by late April. Julius says that prospective donors for a new medical portion of the jail are taken on tours through the unit. For their viewing pleasure and for the benefit of the jail, donors parade past "people that are sleeping in pain, in need of a real doctor, confined to this unit in despair."
His letter is reproduced in full below.
Dear [Where the River Frowns contributor],
My name is [Julius]. I am being housed at Vanderburgh County Detention Center Medical Department along with [another inmate]. He passed your contact address to me because you are interested in dealings at the jail. First off, let me tell you I’m in medical because [I require ongoing medication and other medical care].
We are not allowed a microwave, but we can purchase microwave food from canteen. We are in our cells 24 hours daily. We can’t have ice for drinks we purchase from the jail. No television, can’t watch the news like the rest of the inmates.¹
We pay large payment for medical fees—15 dollar prescription and 15 dollar sick call to see doctor.² I’ve been housed here for 7 months.
This medical department COs [correctional officers] are nasty disrespectful. You can’t just get a simple answer. Most COs are angry to work the unit. Everything is done after sick call, which mean they make us wait for simple things. … [They] take any money due to them for commissary. It’s all about money, no respect for the inmate.
Lights in rule book are to be off at 10:00 p.m., which means 11:00 or 12:00. I’ve filed grievances only to not be responded to.
People are being kept in these conditions for months because DOC time is being sentenced to here instead of going to prison where you can be enrolled in programs that can help you better yourself or even get a time cut so you can go home sooner.
We’re stuck with overworked COs. Angry mad don’t care person to watch over us. Arguing with us and winning every battle. Complaints fall on deaf ears.
Attach to medical is juvenile department cells. They get it just as bad. Those are still kids. No rec. Nothing to do. Locked away in a grown environment. It was cold back there a few weeks ago. They were making them take showers back there in the cold. Then if you get sick, 15 dollar sick call, 15 dollar med—30 dollars for the jail.
Back here in medical they give tours to people that are wanting to donate money to build a new medical portion of the jail. They showing people that are sleeping in pain, in need of a real doctor, confined to this unit in despair.
[An inmate], I was here 6 months with her before they sent her off. It was awful how she was treated constantly. I was next cell to her and was put on lockdown 2 times because she was crying for help and I was told to mind my business before I was moved up front in the booking where it is worse.
I have plenty more stories about here. But I’m out of paper. So thank you for your time.
Where the River Frowns will publish additional letters from those incarcerated at the Vanderburgh County Detention Center in the coming weeks and months. To submit your experiences at the VCDC, send an email to wheretheriverfrowns (at) riseup.net. Inmates can also write us, c/o Evansville Letters to Prisoners, PO Box 6263, Evansville, IN 47719. All submissions will be published anonymously unless the contributor requests otherwise.
1. In a follow-up letter from February 16, 2018, Julius elaborated, "First, the whole jail has use of microwaves and coolers filled daily with ice and some have televisions... There is a microwave here [in medical] for the nurses that they fill with outside food all night, waking up inmates with the smell of popcorn, chicken, hamburger, etc. I was told I'm allowed to order Fresh Favorites, which is cheeseburgers, calzones, and wings, and have it sent to me ice cold. In the pod [the living space outside the medical unit] you can use the microwave to heat food, but I asked several times--can it be heated? The nurses don't want to share the microwave with inmates. That's what I was told. I quit spending money on the hot food order because there's no way to eat them."
2. In his February 16, 2018 letter, Julius explained that the doctor "visits" inmates "on a computer screen from his practice, and the jail pays him while he's at work--very clever."