Starke County officials took a major step toward settling the federal class action lawsuit filed by inmates who claim jail overcrowding violates their civil rights. After some discussion, council members agreed to accept the mediation agreement worked out last month. County attorney Marty Lucas says it will cost the county $90,000 in attorney fees for the plaintiff’s counsel. The inmates who sued won’t get any money. Lucas says the negotiated amount is considerably less than the county would have paid had the lawsuit gone forward.
“As long as we comply with the terms, and I’m confident we can because we’ve been doing all these things anyway, we won’t have any additional fees from the plaintiff’s counsel at all,” said Lucas.
The terms include a limit of 62 inmates at one time to be housed in the Starke County Jail and restrictions on using non-cell areas to house prisoners. Additionally, non-jail inmates are to oversee food preparation, female staff members are to conduct all female inmate searches and inmates are to be afforded weekly outdoor recreation time. The settlement also stipulates staff requirements and requires inmates in excess of 62 be housed at other facilities. A federal judge still has to sign off on the court order, which will expire once the new jail goes online. The county is planning to build a new facility east of Knox on State Road 8 and CR 550 E.