INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) - Several calls have already been logged on a new sex abuse hotline at the Marion County Jail, one month after a federal report said inmates were more likely to be sexually abused by guards there than at any other jail in the country.
The hotline, staffed by trained counselors from the Indiana Coalition Against Sexual Abuse (INCASA), is aimed at giving inmates an outlet to report allegations of abuse without fear of retribution.
A NEW OUTLET
"They can report anonymously through this phone call," said INCASA Communication Director Eric Scheub. "And, if they need treatment, we will provide victim advocacy through our agency, and throughout rape crisis centers."
In its first three weeks of operation, at least three inmates have called to report sexual abuse Scheub said. He declined to provide details surrounding the calls, citing privacy concerns.
"Inmates who reach out to us have that choice of saying--I need someone to talk to, and I need treatment. Or, this happened to me, and I would like to file a report. We are hoping that the people who are assaulted will feel empowered enough to call the hotline, because this is an independent hotline," Scheub said.
The allegations follow the release of a report from the U.S. Department of Justice's Bureau of Justice Statistic (BJS) in May that found the rate of "staff sexual misconduct" at the Marion County Jail at 7.7 percent. That's nearly twice the national average, the report found.
Sheriff John Layton said last week that every allegation investigated by jail staff so far has been determined to be false.
"If we get reports from that hotline, we will immediately investigate. The last thing I want is things like that happening in our Marion County Jail," he said.
A NEW REQUEST
Layton claims inmates who called the hotline were lying in order to get back at guards. False reporting charges have already been brought against one inmate who claimed she was raped by a guard, he said.
False reporting is the same reason Layton blames for the high abuse rate reflected in the Justice Department report.
"We took it seriously. But, there was no evidence. There was nothing there. Anybody can say anything about what did or didn't happen. There's no way that they can prove it, nor any way we can defend it," he said.
In response to the study, Layton wrote a three page letter to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder in late May, blasting the report and asking for additional information on the allegations it references.
"We have heard absolutely nothing back from them. And, that in itself is disappointing. If they don't give us some kind of communication, then I guess that tells it all: there wasn't anything to it in the first place," Layton said.
HISTORY OF ABUSE ALLEGATIONS
I-Team 8 obtained personnel files on 6 jail deputies who were fired over allegations of sexual misconduct during the last five years. Two of the special deputies were terminated during Layton's tenure as Sheriff, including Warren Hoosier, who was fired five days after the Justice Department report was released.
"With 700 deputies and about 1,000 employees at the Marion County Sheriff's Office on a daily basis, we've had about one of these incidents per year. I'm not saying that's acceptable, but these are human beings. Mistakes are made," Layton said.
Layton, who served as the department's third in command when the other deputies were fired said even one allegation of abuse is too many.
"I was here. So, I can't say it's completely off my desk just because there was another Sheriff sitting here. But, I can guarantee you if I'd have heard there was something going on as [third in command], I'm going to take it straight to the Sheriff and we're going to get it done. There hasn't been anything hidden. There hasn't been anything wiped under the carpet. We investigate. Once the evidence is found, they're out the door," he said.
But, critics, including one Marion County Sheriff's Deputy, claim the department hasn't investigated as well as it could.
NEW CALLS FOR INVESTIGATION
I-Team 8 obtained a copy of an email written by Layton to jail staff three days after the release of the BJS study. In it, Layton calls the study "official gossip with no evidence," and says the Justice Department's report gave him nothing to investigate.
"You should not send out emails this way," responded Marion County Sheriff's Deputy Jim Grimes." You're disparaging another branch of law enforcement. They are doing their job. It's up to us to do ours."
Grimes, who said he works mainly as a security guard at the prosecutor's office and City-County Building, and said he is exploring the possibility of running for Sheriff in 2014, said the study should serve as a wake-up call.
"Being twice above the national average is very concerning. And, DOJ's survey has measurements and statistics that are usually evened out over the years that have been proven to be correct. The email that was sent out was basically saying
the DOJ was absolutely wrong. I don't [believe they're absolutely wrong]," he said.
Grimes said inmates need better outlets to both report allegations of sexual abuse and to file grievances against other inmates or staff.
Layton says the hotline is now providing that.
It also brings the jail into early compliance with the federal Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA), Scheub said. All jails and prisons across Indiana must have similar abuse hotlines set up by the end of August under PREA, he added.
"I would open our doors to any of our critics to see what we do here," Layton said. "The last thing I want is things like that happening in our Marion County Jail."
A Lafayette man charged with multiple bank robberies in Tippecanoe and Clinton Counties pleads guilty to a series of bank robberies in Illinois.
The drop in temperatures brings the potential for health dangers, such as hypothermia and frost bite. The bitter temperatures can pose a threat for children, adults and pets.
As it stands Wednesday, there will be no FEMA aid for tornado survivors in Howard County.