EVANSVILLE – It’s about time.
That’s how Sheriff Dave Wedding feels after the Indiana Department of Correction told Vanderburgh County officials they must address jail overcrowding and understaffing.
Wedding made it a point in his first term as sheriff to call for major changes to the jail, which is now only 11 years old.
He wasn’t shocked by the state’s demands.
“I anticipated it. I almost welcome the letter, because he’s just affirming what I’ve said for two years now,” he said.
After the state’s annual inspection of the county jail, the Department of Correction demanded the county develop a tangible plan within six months to address how many beds and space it has for inmates and how many jail staff are employed with the county.
“They’re just asking us to not be indifferent to the problem. And I’m certainly not going to be indifferent ... I think we do have a government here in Vanderburgh County that can work together and fix this problem,” he said.
The jail is designed to hold 553. The state recommends it be about 80 percent of that, or 442.
The jail population Wednesday was 707. It’s not just the lack of available bed space the state cares about. The Department of Correction also wants the county to increase the amount of corrections officers and staff in the jail.
With a limited budget and high turnover for jail staff, corrections officers often work 12-16 hour shits. Commissioner Cheryl Musgrave pressed Wedding on Tuesday at the commissioner’s meeting to ask County Council for more staff soon. “That’s the thing that makes me most uncomfortable about this. I do not like placing the staff at risk,” Musgrave said.
Commissioner Bruce Ungethiem said expanding the jail isn’t just a straightforward project. What has to be considered is the more than 100 state prisoners who are lodged at the county jail.
“We also need to understand who the clientele will be. We’ve changed form being a county jail to a prison holding convicted prisoners,” Ungethiem said.
Convicted level 6 felonies — the lowest level of felony in the state’s criminal code — serve their sentences in the local county jails. In return, the state pays the county $35 per inmate per day.
Councilman Mike Goebel said the state needs to work on the county on increasing that funding. “To me the problem is particularly with the state making us hold level 6 inmates,” Goebel said.
County Councilman John Montrastelle It’s time for this council to address the overcrowding problem. “We have a real situation here at the jail. Sheriff Wedding has been talking to us for quite a long time and he’s spent a lot of time in Indianapolis meeting with Department of Correction to raise that $35 to $55. We hope he has success in doing that,” he said.