ANDERSON — Four months after a summit meeting to look at options on how to reduce the inmate population, the Madison County Jail remains packed.
Madison County Sheriff Scott Mellinger said Thursday that there were 285 inmates being housed at the jail that has beds for 207 people. That's more than 37 percent over capacity.
“Almost all the people in the jail are awaiting trial,” Mellinger said. “As many as 60 inmates are in jail because they can’t pay a $500 bond to be released.”
Mellinger said Madison County is housing the 16 people convicted of Level 6 felonies in Blackford, Daviess and Knox counties.
“We checked with all the 21 counties surrounding Madison County and none had any space to house our inmates,” he said. “All the people convicted of a Level 6 felony are being housed out of county.”
Mellinger said since February's jail summit the criminal justice system has slowed down.
“The prosecutor’s staff is the biggest we’ve ever had and the judges are trying to clear the docket,” he said. “The judges are hesitant to release people.”
Daviess and Knox counties, in southwestern Indiana, are more than 150 miles from Anderson on a one-way trip.
Mellinger said the only good thing about convicted inmates being housed in other counties is that they don’t have to be transported back to Madison County for court appearances.
The Madison County Council on Tuesday tabled a request by Mellinger for $176,000 to pay part-time jail officers and to hire three additional part-time correctional officers.
Mellinger said the average daily population of the jail this year is 282; a year ago, it was 262.
There are currently 50 full-time and six part-time correctional officers.
“The biggest concern is we’re mandated full-time officers to work over,” Mellinger said. “That’s happening about six times per week. That’s a lot of overtime money.”
The inmate population number places a stress on the building, resources and staff, he said.
“At the current numbers some people believe if we can hold 285 people for a couple of weeks that is normal,” Mellinger said.
“Due to operational costs and liability concerns,” the most recent inspection by the Indiana Department of Correction said, “it is recommended Madison County implement a plan for a new jail/criminal justice center.”
Mellinger said county officials have to get together to decide on options to lower the jail population numbers. Those would include alternative sanctions and electronic monitoring.
“The option of farming out inmates to other counties is closing,” he said.
Mellinger said Commissioner John Richwine has discussed building an 80- to 100-bed facility to be operated by the Criminal Justice Center.
“I’m not surprised,” Richwine said Friday of the latest jail population numbers. “We need to consider all options.
“It’s a poverty issue and not a build a new jail issue,” he said. “We’re holding people on Level 6 felony charges in the jail because they can’t afford a $500 bond.”
Richwine said county officials have to determine why people are being kept in the jail on a $5,000 bond.
“We have to change the system,” he said. “Maybe we should be releasing them after five or 10 days. If they were serious offenders, the bond would be higher.”
Mellinger prefers a 100-bed facility built to jail standards that would be operated by the sheriff, one that could be expanded in the future.
“We have 70 to 80 female inmates per day,” Mellinger said. “If we can move them to a separate facility, it will make space in the jail.”
Richwine and some members of the county council realize the need to start moving on the construction of a new jail, which would cost up to $50 million for a 400-bed facility, he said.
“It will raise taxes,” Mellinger said. “I’m not sure they have the political courage.
He said it's not a matter of "want" but of "need." Every option should be considered, he said.