PRINCETON — The American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana is again suing the Gibson County Sheriff and Commissioners on behalf of inmates at the Gibson County Jail.

County Attorney James McDonald informed commissioners of the pending lawsuit Tuesday night.

The federal lawsuit filed Feb. 13 comes after county commissioners have engaged a study of solutions to ease overcrowding and understaffing, cited in the past two years of Indiana Department of Correction inspections of the Gibson County Jail.

The class action complaint was certified to proceed, according to a court docket entry, on Feb. 15.

The multi-count complaint filed by ACLU on behalf of named inmate Zeberiah Stilwell and other unnamed inmates alleges overcrowding, insufficient monitoring and staffing and other complaints about jail conditions/policies. It seeks a preliminary injunction, court costs and attorney fees to resolve the issues.

Commissioners responded to the 2017 and 2018 DOC inspections by asking the county council for more funding to add corrections officers. The county has added funding four more jailers since the first report in 2017, but is still six short of the inspection report recommendations.

The jail, with a rated capacity of 120 beds, is recommended by the inspection reports to house 96 inmates. Last week the jail census was reported at 168 inmates.

There was no information immediately available regarding hearings scheduled for the lawsuit. Commissioners authorized McDonald to turn the suit over to the county’s insurance for legal representation. 

The county entered a settlement of a similar federal lawsuit in 2007 over jail conditions. That lawsuit was filed in U.S. Southern Indiana District Court in Evansville July 18, 2003, by the ACLU on behalf of prisoners George Culbertson and Ken Duncombe, and other prisoners.

The original class action complaint alleged that the jail, with a rated capacity of 109 beds at that time, consistently operated well over the rated bed capacity. That complaint alleged overcrowding, lack of supervision over inmates and dangerous living conditions.

Commissioners and the sheriff worked with the ACLU to settle issues in the 2003 complaint, resolving some issues by building the minimum-security work release facility to free up space in the secured jail.

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