DAYTON — Montgomery County Sheriff Phil Plummer won’t allow consultants hired by a county advisory committee access to the jail to interview inmates about conditions behind bars.
Plummer turned down the Justice Advisory Committee’s request in an Aug. 21 letter to Rabbi Bernard Barsky, the committee co-chair. The committee requested admission for its consultants to conduct a survey of inmates, including questions about their safety and treatment within the facility.
“It is disappointing,” said Barsky. “We are looking into making arrangements to interview recent inmates of the jail — people who in the last six months or 12 months have been in the jail to still try to capture the information as best we can.”
Plummer turned down the request because of a pending lawsuit alleging overcrowded conditions in the jail — an issue discussed with the committee by CGL Companies consultants in July, according to Plummer’s letter.
“As you know, a class-action lawsuit was recently filed, reciting and espousing many of the same statements and comments from the last Justice Advisory Committee meeting,” the letter reads.
The named plaintiffs, Nicholas Alston and Keith Barber, filed suit in July, seeking relief from overcrowding and related issues. They were among 16 inmates who wrote a letter to U.S. District Court Judge Walter Rice to detail allegations of cruel and unusual punishment at the hands of corrections officers.
The advisory group was formed in March 2017 to quell calls for a federal civil rights investigation into the treatment of inmates at the jail. At least 13 federal civil lawsuits have been filed against Montgomery County over jail operations.
One lawsuit against the jail was dismissed, and a jury ruled in favor of the county in another. Four lawsuits have been settled out of court. Others are pending, including one involving Robert Richardson, who died May 19, 2012. That lawsuit alleges jail employees handcuffed and subdued Richardson on his stomach outside a cell door while he was having a medical emergency.
Advisory committee members, on Aug. 21, discussed posing an 11-question survey to up to 20 inmates on Sept. 5. Also at the meeting, the same day Plummer’s letter is dated, the group discussed the need to interview 60-75 inmates to get a diverse and representative sample of views.
In his letter, Plummer questions whether the survey will yield useful data:
“Without commenting at this time on the appropriateness or quality of the suggested questions, it is clear that the sample questions will not provide useful or credible information,” reads Plummer’s letter.
Two of the survey questions provided the jail include:
• Describe your experience at the jail with respect to the conditions of the jail (i.e. HVAC, availability of toiletries, responsiveness of staff, operability of toilets/showers;
• Describe your experiences with the booking process on arriving at the jail. Were you properly tended to by staff, examined by medical staff?
On advice of the Montgomery County Prosecutor’s Office due to the pending overcrowding lawsuit, Plummer declined to comment on the letter specifically but said the jail meets or exceeds the standards of assessors, compliance and inspection organizations and accrediting boards, including those that conduct inmate interviews.
“We are looked at by all kinds of outside agencies,” Plummer said. “We’ve always come out with good reviews.”
The Montgomery County Jail is regularly inspected by no fewer than nine different federal, state and local authorities and organizations and is one of only four jails in the state — and the only one in an urban setting — certified by the American Correctional Association.
Justice Advisory Committee members toured the jail in June 2017, and the independent jail consultant, CGL Companies, has already been granted access to the jail in connection with its evaluation and assessment and will be able to continue work that does not involve direct communication with inmates, according to the county.
The justice committee planned with CGL as early as last February to interview inmates, leading CGL to obtain the services of Mary Tyler, the executive director of the National Conference for Community and Justice of Greater Dayton, who was leading the survey effort.
Plummer, a Republican, is running for the Ohio’s 40th House District seat this fall. His Democratic opponent is Ryan Taylor, a Wright State University lecturer. The district includes Huber Heights, Vandalia, Englewood and parts of Dayton, Riverside, Union and Butler and Clay townships.