“Psychologically Damaging” Transportation for Indiana Inmates, Denial of Mental Health Care

This post is the third in a series investigating conditions in the Vanderburgh County Detention Center from the perspective of people incarcerated there. Posts are compiled here

In early January, prisoner David Hooker of Evansville, IN, traveled under the captivity of the Indiana Department of Corrections from the Indiana State Prison in Michigan City to the Vanderburgh County Confinement Center, a trip which led to panic attacks, sleeplessness, and bouts of claustrophobia.
During the 300-mile trip, David reports cramped quarters, bouncing around against a steel interior while handcuffed without a seatbelt, and becoming dizzy and nauseous.  At one point, another inmate started crying. David wrote, “I talked to him for a while to forget our physical and mental torture but after a while the pain became too unbearable to speak further. While he cried, I put my head down and begged God to ease or stop our suffering. After 4 ½ hours nonstop, it was finally over.”

On April 3 at the Vanderburgh County Jail Blue Ribbon Committee meeting, Sheriff Dave Wedding said that 95 Vanderburgh County inmates were housed outside of the county’s facility that day, and that he hoped to transfer 80 more by the end of the week, bringing the total to about 170 Vanderburgh County inmates housed in 9 or 10 jails throughout Indiana, Illinois, and Kentucky. Each of these inmates will be transported at least twice–to and from the outside facility–but could also be transported at other times for court appearance or other reasons.

Although David Hooker is serving a sentence as a state prisoner under the Indiana Department of Corrections (IDOC) rather than serving time as a Vanderburgh County inmate (he transferred briefly to Vanderburgh County for a court appearance), his story could give some insight into the abuse that is typical for inmates in Indiana who are transferred back and forth between facilities. Below is David Hooker’s full account of his traumatic trip from a letter dated January 30, 2018.


My name is David Hooker and I was transported here in an ordinary appearing sheriff’s transport van. I was told by transport officer Deputy Riney that since trip is more than four hours there would be many stops to stretch, orientate and use restroom—esp. since I take blood pressure, cholesterol and diabetic medication which causes constant urination.

At rear of vehicle I was escorted into one of two (approx.) 3 ft wide by 3 ft high by 6 ft long stainless steel rectangular (completely enclosed) tubes that had a steel bench for seat that covered half of floor, in the ceiling was embedded a camera and four round powerful lights that reflected off walls burning the eyes. On bench was a long strip of black sandpaper (I guess to ease sliding) and adjacent on steel wall was blue rope with multiple clamps (I assume makeshift seat belts).

​The door was slammed shut and I was completely isolated from the world in total darkness. The engine started, overhead lights came on and at high speeds for what appeared hours I was slammed and banged (while cuffed) against steel interior while balled up due to close quarters. The need to urinate and get out took over so I banged on steel walls and screamed into heating vent.

Shortly, while at Westville, Riney opened rear, tossed me a tiny-mouth bottle to piss in and stated Westville will not allow them to let me out some. I was again plunged in total darkness and figure out a way to get my penis out and piss in tiny top bottle. I got more urine on me and floor than in bottle.

A little later two other prisoners cuffed were put in with me in cramped quarters. From there at high speeds and bumpy roads we were tossed, slammed and bounced on solid steel.

​At high speeds air poured in from under the rear door and we all became sick from dizziness, nausea, shifting realities and our eyes burned from the lights. One prisoner laid down at our feet and passed out. My coat was used as his pillow and the other prisoner at rear door scratched at lights and cried from sickness.

I talked to him for a while to forget our physical and mental torture but after a while the pain became too unbearable to speak further. While he cried, I put my head down and begged God to ease or stop our suffering. After 4 ½ hours nonstop, it was finally over.

Since then, I have suffered panic attacks, sleeplessness, bouts of claustrophobia and after filing electronic grievances over kiosk machine, I was told through grievance to see mental health. Yesterday I saw Jamie of mental health who informed me that the Sheriff’s Department (Admin over Jail) has barred her psychiatric department from treating these kinds of mental health issues.

The Vanderburgh County Sheriff’s Department is systematically psychologically damaging the minds of its prisoners (convicted and non-convicted) and then barring them medical treatment.

I was told I can put in $15 for sick call and pay $15 for a few motion sickness pills, by staff.

After February 13, 2018, I will be shipped back to Michigan City, IN prison under the same barbarous conditions.

​The vehicles carry (approx.) as many as 14 prisoners at once across the state and they are so unsafe that serious bodily injury or death is just (1) accident (roll over, someone crash into the rear and/or slide off the road). The prisoner will likely sustain broken bones from impact with surrounding steel and suffocation from other bodies on top and in restraints making it impossible to get out.

In a follow-up letter from March 28, 2018, David explained that he came to Vanderburgh County for a court appearance related to challenging a plea bargain conviction from 2001 that qualifies him as a “habitual offender.” In mid-February, David was transported back to Indiana State Prison. To his relief, the inmate transport vans were broken down, so he was transported in a sheriff’s squad car. Still, the ride was unpleasant: they had David “cuffed and chained, boxed inside plexiglass in [the] corner of [the] back seat.” Fortunately, he said, “seeing outside my enclosure minimized my anxieties and need to urinate frequently.”
David also shared more of this thoughts about mental health treatment at the Vanderburgh County Confinement Center:

I filed [a] complaint about the denial [of] medical treatment for mental health issues they’ve created and they just simply denied my complaint! What further shocks me is that Indiana and Evansville have chosen to imprison those charged with crimes and those convicted then charge them for medical treatment stemming from sicknesses contracted while incarcerated.

David further explained that the mental health worker he saw at the Vanderburgh County Confinement Center said she could not treat him because of “a new list of banned medications and treatments” from the Sheriff’s Department. As of late March, David continues to have trouble sleeping and is sometimes “shocked awake after having dreams of children locked inside tiny boxes.”
According to Indiana Administrative Code, all prisoners are entitled to mental health care. However, “offenders who have been committed to the department, but who are housed in a county jail,” like David Hooker was January, “shall be subject to the rules of the county jail in which they are housed” (210 IAC 7-2-1).
The Vanderburgh County Confinement Center did not respond to multiple requests for information regarding mental health services. Vanderburgh County Code (VCC) does not outline mental health services for the jail, and a section of the VCC regarding payment for medical services at the jail does not specifically list mental health care as a service provided–only medical, dental, eye, and “any other health care related service” (VCC 3.04.030). The same section of Vanderburgh County Code also states that inmates do not have to pay for health care services if provided “as a result of an injury received in the Vanderburgh County jail,” which would qualify David for free mental health treatment if mental and emotional harm were included as injuries and if transfers to and from the jail were considered “in” the jail.

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