EVANSVILLE – A state inspector demanded Vanderburgh County Commissioners and Council develop a real plan to address overcrowding and understaffing conditions at the Vanderburgh County Jail.
County officials have six months to figure out how to bring the 10-year-old jail up to state standards. The solution could be costly, but it could be more expensive to ignore the demands.
Indiana Department of Correction Executive Director of Sheriff and County Jail Operations Kenneth Whipker sent a letter to the county that listed how the county jail was not in line with state rules.
❚ The jail is overcrowded. Its capacity is at about 120 percent.
❚ Not all inmates have access to a bed.
❚ There isn’t at least one toilet and one shower per 12 inmates
❚ There aren’t at least 35 square feet per inmate in a cell area and at least 50 square feet per inmate in the dorm area.
❚ Not having at least 20 percent unused beds in the jails means there can’t be a system to safely house, segregate and accommodate inmates with special needs.
❚ The jail doesn’t have enough personnel to provide “adequate supervision and to ensure staff and inmate safety” (specifically directed at Vanderburgh County Council).
Whipker told the Courier & Press Monday he doesn’t just want county officials to talk about the problem, he wants to see tangible developments — funding mechanisms, drawings, fleshed-out details — when he checks back in April.
“You can’t just talk about something. You have to have a plan in place,” Whipker said.
Vanderburgh County Commissioners will discuss Whipker’s letter at their 3 p.m. meeting Tuesday in room 301 of the Civic Center, 1 N.W. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.
The jail has a capacity of 553 people. During Whipker’s inspection on Oct. 25, there were 643. The county also has about 60 others lodged at other area jails.
Several women lodged at the jail are forced to sleep on “boats,” plastic cots that lay on the floor. By state definition, a bed must be 12 inches off the ground.
The jail was built with two housing pods, each with 256 beds. Previous estimates put adding a third pod at $15 million.
If the county doesn’t form a plan in the next six months, a court could order renovations and require more staffing. The state could also recommend time limits on housing inmates, force the county to move its inmates to meet capacity or even shut down the jail, all of which Whipker considered parts of the highly unlikely “nuclear option.”
“Someone’s going to have to foot the bill for that,” he said.
He commended Sheriff Dave Wedding and Jail Commander Chad Ferguson, who he said are doing the best they can with the resources they have.
“That’s a facility I want to see mirrored with others,” he said.
Wedding has repeatedly spoken out about the jail’s issues, which he called “grossly wrong and grossly neglected” this summer.
Vanderburgh County isn’t alone in the state. A state legislative committee reviewing solutions to jail problems estimates 44 county jails of the 91 in the state are also overcrowded.