More scrutiny of Northwest Indiana jail

May 17, 2011

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The sheriff of Lake County, Indiana, says he expects to have a new mental health provider for his troubled county jail by the end of June. A new one is needed because the current firm, Edgewater Systems, based in Gary, is quitting.

Edgewater CEO Donita Johnson Hughes informed the sheriff’s department earlier this month that it’s opting out of its $1.1 million contact to provide mental health services to inmates at the county jail in Crown Point. Edgewater plans to be out by June 21.

The announcement came after Sheriff John Buncich criticized the firm on the quality of its service. Mental health service at the jail has been the subject of several inspections by the U.S. Department of Justice. Buncich, who came into office in January, says he gave Edgewater an opportunity to take corrective measures in order for the jail to be in compliance with the DOJ’s standards for health care services for jail inmates. But the firm’s decision to leave is fine with him.

“My staff and I have immediately begun the process with our consultants and the Department of Justice officials to get qualified individuals in here to serve the mental health needs of the inmates,” Buncich said Tuesday.

The DOJ toured the jail in March and didn’t like what it found as far as mental and medical services for inmates. Buncich said the problems existed before he took office in January. He says he inherited a mess from former Sheriff Roy Dominguez.

“We have to provide the proper medical and mental health care to the inmates and it’s just not occurring now,” Buncich said. “This has to be taken care of immediately otherwise the Department of Justice is just going to come down on us heavier each and every time they come in for an inspection.”

The Lake County Board of Commissioners will discuss the departure of Edgewater Systems at its meeting Wednesday morning.