Deputy Warden Kimberly Cox has seen a lot of faces come and go in her 15-or-so years working at the Lake County Jail.
“Some of them have come in as long as I’ve been here,” Cox said.
There were 109 females housed at the jail one day last month, according to data obtained by the Post-Tribune from the Lake County Sheriff’s Department. In Porter County, 62 females were in the jail on Monday, the Porter County Sheriff’s Department website showed.
As Cox walked around the halls earlier this month, women carried blue mattresses and their belongings to where they would be held after being booked in the Lake County Jail.
An orange line runs along the floors on the fifth floor where most of the women are kept, Cox said. Others may be housed in medical or mental health facilities in the jail, she said.
Only female correctional officers work the floor, with a central command room in the center where officers can monitor video streams and unlock doors.
Narrow walkways lead to areas where the offenders reside. White bars separate the living space, with tables, a TV, phone and shower, from the areas with bunk beds and toilets. In one section, women stacked books between the bars by their beds.
“Our females and males are all treated the same,” Porter County Jail Assistant Warden Ron Gaydos said.
From Cox’s perspective, there’s a different mentality, though, when a new person enters the female side of the jail compared to the male. She said she’s heard women already in the jail tell newcomers “let me help you through this” or “this is what’s going to happen.”
“There’s somebody that’s going to be a ‘mom,’” Cox said, and relationships form “like family bonds.”
Still, Cox said she’s seen some of the types of offenses women face in the Lake County Jail generally become more high profile or violent over the years.
Seven women in the Lake County Jail were charged with murder, according to the data. Two other women were charged with murder while committing a robbery and two more with attempted murder, the data shows.
Chastinea Reeves, who is the youngest female at 16, is one of those facing a murder charge. Reeves is accused of of “repeatedly stabbing” her mother, Jamie Garnett, on Feb. 13 in Gary, court records show.
Darianna Hamblin, 23, was sentenced earlier this month to 52 years in prison after being convicted of murder while committing armed robbery in the killing of her cousin, Brandon Johnson, in 2015, according to court records.
Porter County Jail had one woman charged with murder Monday, according to the sheriff’s department. Karen Sons, 55, has pleaded not guilty to killing her boyfriend, Robert Head, Dec. 8 in Lake Eliza, according to court records.
The No. 1 offense for female inmates at the Porter County Jail last year was failure to appear, Gaydos said. That was followed, in order, by driving while suspended, operating while intoxicated, hold for another jurisdiction and theft, he said.
Lake County Jail housed a few offenders last month charged in federal court, the data shows. One of them, Rita Law, 59, is scheduled to be sentenced next month after she was convicted last year in a sex trafficking case involving spas she ran in Lake Station, Gary and Hobart, according to court records.
At least 14 of the women offenders in the Lake County Jail were charged with possession of some type of controlled substance, eight with theft and five with a type of burglary, according to court records.
Women in the jails tend to be in their 20s or early 30s, according to Cox and Gaydos. In Lake County, ages ranged from 16 to 64, while the span was 18 to 60 in Porter County, data shows.
About five or six times a year, according to Cox’s estimates, staff take a pregnant female offender to the hospital to deliver a baby.
Women end up in Lake County Jail for a variety of reasons, she said. Cox thinks a lot of it has to do with childhood trauma, “low self-esteem or feeling inadequate,” she said.
And even if a person is not charged directly with a drug offense, some type of addiction might be at play in the background of the crime, according to Cox.
“One thing turns into another and you’re into something,” Cox said.
Over the years, she’s watched the women change, she said. Their children have grown as they come to visit their mothers in jail, she said.
Each time, “you’re rooting for them when they leave,” Cox said.