Report finds Marion County Jail II was unprepared for February blackout

The Daily Reformer

INDIANAPOLIS — A report compiled by the Marion County Sheriffs Office found that CoreCivic, the private company hired to operate Jail II at 730 East Washington Street, was unprepared for a blackout that struck the five-story building before dawn on February 22.

Jail II, with a maximum capacity of 1,259 beds for moderate-to-lower level felony offenders and detainees, was plunged into darkness at 2:56 a.m. due to the failed operation of a backup generator once external electricity was cut as the result of weather-related repairs.

28 inmates were injured either due to accidents or assaults in the dark before full power was restored more than 90 minutes later.

“They agreed this is something they should have prepared for,” Marion County Sheriff Kerry Forestal told FOX59.

According to a chronology of events released in the hours after the crisis, MCSO reported its civilian jail liaison staffer with Jail II was not advised of the outage for 21 minutes, resulting in the first sheriff’s deputy arriving on the scene at 3:45 a.m., 51 minutes after the electricity failed.

“The failure was totally falling on CoreCivic not notifying of it,” said Forestal. “They should’ve told us the second the lights went out.

“Our first deputy said the building was totally dark. Not only did we start the official chain of notification through the 911 center and but also making calls.”

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Forestal said the report on the outage found Jail II was understaffed and literally in the dark to respond to the outage.

The report indicates that CoreCivic has filled just 155 of its mandated 218 positions to operate the former car factory turned into a jail on the near eastside of the downtown area, a handful of blocks from the Marion County Jail.

“We’re in the same painful predicament trying to hire enough, but I think in the report the conclusion was additional staff may have helped that,” said Forestal.

The report also found CoreCivic did not have enough flashlights for staff to operate in the darkness, emergency lighting, batteries to run surveillance cameras and monitors and a redundant backup system in case of failure of the emergency generator.

“It’s an obvious oversight on their part because they considered that the engineers said the generator will never fail,” said Forestal. “Well, we’ve had that, we’ve seen that, obviously that’s not true, so they needed to be prepared with the additional lights to put their people in that predicament.”

Even though the county is due to shut down Jail II at the end of the year as it moves inmates and operations to the new jail at the Community Justice Center in the Twin Aire neighborhood, Forestal said CoreCivic has agreed to pay for upgrades at the current facility.

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“Their contract ends at the end of the year, so I’m sure there was an incentive to not have more investments before they close the door. They’ve been good public partners for more than a dozen years,” he said. “They are inspected regularly. There is also a state jail inspection where they’re also accredited.

“I think that the last one that they had in detail was in October, so I believe they are within the standards of what are the standard practices throughout the nation.”

Councilor Leroy Robinson, chairman of the City-County Council’s Public Safety and Criminal Justice Committee, said the failure of CoreCivic to keep the lights on during the February power outage is an indication why Marion County needs a new incarceration facility totally under control of the sheriff.

“This is just another reason why we have concerns with our old outdated system where our sheriff’s department, not only inmates, but sheriff’s officers need to be safe.”

CoreCivic issued a statement to FOX59 in response to the MC Jail II power outage report:

“CoreCivic is committed to providing high-quality, compassionate treatment for everyone entrusted to our care. We take very seriously our responsibility to provide a safe and appropriate environment for those in our care, and CoreCivic facility staff and our government partner, Marion County Sheriff’s Office (MCSO) work closely together to achieve this goal.

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We welcome and appreciate the oversight and recommendations from our partners at MCSO. As the report’s author’s note, the facility has or is in the process of resolving items raised from the review.”

The report specifically states:

“The MCJII appears to have made effective use of personnel resources.”

“Overall, the review of MCJII was successful. The MCJII needed improvement in a few areas, but they have been given the findings and recommendations and in some areas of concern they have agreed and either corrected some of the issues or is currently working very.”

CoreCivic said an examination of its emergency generator identified a faulty part that has been replaced.

Fox 59

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