INDIANAPOLIS — Corrections officials say they’ve spent a decade working to reduce sexual assaults in state prisons and local jails, but their efforts aren’t enough to satisfy the federal government.
Late last week, Gov. Mike Pence told the U.S. Justice Department the state won’t meet a deadline to certify that all prisons and county jails comply with the federal Prison Rape Elimination Act.
The major sticking point is money. The state needs an estimated $20 million – another $4.5 million for counties – to add the staff and equipment required by the law.
“This would require a redirection of millions of tax dollars currently supporting other critical needs for Indiana,” Pence said in a May 15 letter to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder.
His decision may cost the state and local governments about $350,000 a year in federal corrections funds as a penalty for failing to comply with the law.
But that loss pales in comparison to the price of meeting the Justice Department’s standards. According to the Federal Register, a county would spend about $50,000 to upgrade its jail to comply.
“The goal is worthy but the costs are impossible to meet,” said Steve Luce, head of the Indiana Sheriff’s Association, whose members oversee the state’s 92 county jails.
The law would require the state to increase staffing at four juvenile prison facilities to prevent sexual assaults, costing about $5.4 million for up to 120 additional guards.
One of the costliest measures prohibits “cross-gender viewing,” and requires that inmates be allowed to do things like shower and change out of view of guards of the opposite sex.
“The remedy is to hire more staff and erect more barriers, but that takes money,” said Luce. “This is another unfunded mandate from the federal government.”