Living in Isolation

By Megan Trent

January 6, 2012 Updated Jan 6, 2012 at 8:54 PM EDT

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (Indiana's NewsCenter) - Michael Plumadore, the 39-year-old man accused of killing 9-year-old Aliahna Lemmon, is being kept in isolation and on suicide watch within the Allen County Jail.

A trial date for Plumadore has yet to be set, but that hasn't stopped people from debating what his sentence should be if convicted. Some say, life in prison in solitary confinement might be worse than death. Indiana's NewsCenter went to the nearby Huntington County Jail to find out what life in isolation is really like.

Huntington County Sheriff Terry Stoffel says, "We use isolation cells more frequently than what you would think. A lot of people come in here detoxing or high, and they are really a danger to themselves because they are not thinking properly."

Inmates in those situations are put into medical isolation, as is anyone with a medical condition that may cause personal harm (like seizures), or anyone deemed to be a suicide risk.

When an inmate is sent to medical isolation, all they are given is a green smock and green blanket made out of a thick material that prevents it from being torn or tied. This prevents inmates from using the items to harm themselves.

For 23 hours out of every day, all the inmate sees is a room with rubber walls and small restroom facilities. Jail Commander Jeff Kyle says, "No radio, no telephone, no TV, no nothing. You're out for one hour to write letters, to take a shower, exercise a little bit, and then you're back down for 23 more hours."

The same rules, including thorough strip searches, apply to inmates in disciplinary isolation. Kyle says, "The disciplinary ones are for lockdown in the back of the jail. They can be locked down for contraband, fighting, anything that is not allowed in our jail. We can lock them down and isolate them from the rest of the population."

While an inmate might stay in disciplinary isolation for 30 days, inmates are usually only in medical isolation for 24-48 hours. Sheriff Stoffel says, "They are cleared medically before we allow them back in the population, or they are released to the street."

Kyle says no matter what jail you enter in any Indiana county, the rules are likely to remain constant. "It's really a standard set by jail rules that the whole state is governed by. So, if we don't comply with that then we get in trouble ourselves."

Sheriff Stoffel says the Huntington County Jail could use a few more isolation cells (they currently have two) to aid in protecting inmates.

"There's a big influx and upswing we are seeing with meth and drugs," says Stoffel. "The city and the state and our guys are bringing people in here a lot more frequently on drugs, and we could absolutely use a couple more cells to protect them."

Overall, Sheriff Stoffel and Kyle agree that the isolation cells are a big asset in protecting inmates from themselves and others.

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