The Jefferson County Commissioners and County Council met Friday to address the results of a state jail inspection last month.
The annual inspection found the Jefferson County Jail was noncompliant in several areas, including overcrowding and under-staffing.
Friday’s discussion ranged from adding jail staff to remodeling the jail to moving the jail to the Madison State Hospital grounds.
Jefferson County Sheriff John Wallace called the pairing of too many inmates and too few jailers a “double whammy.”
The jail currently has 125 inmates, 16 more than capacity allows by state standards.
“With what we have in that jail now, we can deal with that, with inmates,” he said, “if we have the proper staff.”
Overcrowding still makes things dangerous – for everyone involved, Wallace said.
“I don’t want it to come to the point where something tragic does happen,” he said, noting there have been close calls with inmates harming themselves or others.
“One of these days we won’t be that fortunate. Staff makes all the difference,” Wallace said.
According to the state’s calculations, the jail is understaffed by 13. In 2014, the state recommended that at least five positions must be on duty at all times in areas such as the control room, booking and then some on the floor of the jail itself.
Last year, council member Judy Smith remembered, Wallace asked for funds for four more jailers and he was allotted two.
Smith said as the council heads into the final stages of budget talks next Tuesday, that should be seriously taken into account.
“If you’re already in trouble now,” she said. “Things are not safe. I feel like that’s what your department is telling us.”
Wallace agreed, saying that if an incident did occur, there would be serious repercussions and a likely lawsuit on their hands.
While Wallace said it was hard to estimate how large the population may grow by the end of this year, 130 is a safe estimate, he said. When Wallace became sheriff six years ago, the average daily count was no more than 80. In the past four years, numbers have grown to 109 in 2014 to 129 last year.
Wallace said that while he believed those responsible for remodeling the jail probably thought it would fit their need for decades to come, “we had no idea this drug situation was going to explode the way it did.”
“It’s no fault of this council,” Wallace said, “when the jail was remodeled and built and expanded, I don’t know that the staff and some of the line items were expanded along with it. And I think that’s where we kind of initially fell behind, and now we’ve just been constantly trying to catch up.”
Since that time, jail facilities in Henryville and Edinburgh have also closed, something commissioner Bobby Little pointed out, saying that he wasn’t sure he wanted to start building a new jail if either of those facilities reopened – leaving Jefferson County with “a huge albatross sitting there.”
The idea of a multi-county partnership could lead to a new jail near the Jefferson Proving Ground. Commissioners said that after visiting vacant buildings formerly owned by the Madison State Hospital, there also seems to be potential for a facility on the hilltop.
The possibility of moving only female inmates, as well as the entire Jefferson County Jail to the hilltop was discussed.
Commissioner David Bramer said that the buildings were built solid and could make for a good space to include a treatment wing as well, addressing the drug problem fueling inmate population growth.
“You’re looking at a drug problem,” Pam Crozier said. “We shouldn’t turn our heads... It affects every class of citizen and you just don’t know where that’s going to stop.”
“We can build forever,” Bramer said, if treatment and rehabilitation are factored more heavily into the future equation.
Bramer, Wallace and commissioner Ray Denning agreed to form a subcommittee to contact Kenneth Whipker, the Indiana Department of Correction’s executive liaison for sheriff and county jail operations, to further discuss Jefferson County’s plans to be sure they’re on the right track before going too far into the 180 days allotted to the County to address jail noncompliance.
The group will reconvene at 5 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 28 to continue the discussion and planning.