A substantial source of income for Fayette County is threatened because the county jail is overcrowded.

The Indiana Department of Correction has removed state prisoners from the jail. Sheriff Billy Wayson confirmed the prisoners were removed earlier this month because the jail, with a stated capacity just more than 110 prisoners, had reached 170 inmates.

Much of that overcrowding is a result of drug raids in the past 18 months. Many prisoners are confined until the cases go to court.

The county is not alone in its loss of state prisoners, with prisoners removed from other county jails recently due to overcrowding, Wayson said.

The loss of state prisoners hits the county’s budget hard. The state pays $35 a day per prisoner and health care costs. The 17 prisoners represent $217,175 in annual income. At times, the county has housed even more prisoners for the state.

Fayette County Auditor Debbie Kidd said the county’s 2012 budget includes $440,000 in projected income from housing state prisoners. In 2010, the county received $450,437 . As of Sept. 30, the county had received $308,820 for 2011.

Fayette County Council President Ron Cox said last week the council – which supervises the county budget – had not been informed of the inmate removal.

Richie Pflum, president of the Fayette County Commissioners, said Wayson had informed the commissioners that prisoners would be removed from the jail due to the overcrowding situation. Other counties were also losing prisoners for overcrowding.

Kenneth Whipker, the Correction Department’s county jail executive liaison, said all county jails must provide three programs aimed at reducing the number of repeat offenders: GED education, substance abuse treatment and “Thinking for a Change,” a class that teaches new ways of thinking.

Fayette County Jail programs are not state approved, he explained.

“There are several counties that present one or all three programs within the jail,” he said. “Some counties may not do all three but a lot of the jails have at least one. They don’t have to have all three. Preferentially it would be beneficial if they did have all three and they would receive a favorable review, but if they had all three, that would be something we would consider.

“But what tops it all off, if they’re overcrowded, there is no way we can have offenders being housed there if they have to put them on the floor.”

There have been other county jails that have run out of space, Whipker said. The state has space for those offenders.

“Most of those offenders are short-term offenders, the ones being housed in county jails,” he explained. “Normally, they are there for a year or less. We have developed programming internally within our facilities for short-term offenders. The number of offenders doing a year or less outweighs those that are doing more than a year.”

He said about 18,000 offenders are released annually from IDOC and roughly half of those have done less than a year.

“I’m a retired sheriff of 27 years so I’m familiar with process, jail overcrowding, housing inmates, so I’m working both ends of the spectrum now,” he said. “Some jails are filled to the gills and others have empty beds and would like to house additional inmates. You have to look at the jail’s bond schedule, who they are putting there, how they’re using the jail. It’s not uncommon for me to inspect a jail and find someone housed there that has been there two weeks because they were arrested on a failure to appear warrant. They’re there because someone is mad at them or they failed to show up and didn’t tell anybody or they can’t afford the bond schedules.”

Building space for more beds in the jail is not being considered currently, Pflum said. The bigger problem – how everyone works together to replace the funds –would belong to the county council. The sheriff isn’t sure the jail would ever get back to 80 percent of capacity to be able to receive IDOC offenders again, Pflum said.

“I am hoping, once this happens throughout the state and there is more than they thought, hopefully they will reinstate that program,” he said. “It will hurt us on the budget side for sure. Until all the drug raid inmates wash through the system, we will house all of them. If there were no more drug raids from this point, it would take quite a bit to get their sentences filled.”
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