PRINCETON — With a class-action federal lawsuit filed against the county for jail overcrowding and understaffing, Sheriff Tim Bottoms asked the Gibson County Council Tuesday to hire more corrections officers.
But council members asked for a plan for addressing jail conditions, and suggested some of the problems could be eased in the interim by paying other jails to house county inmates.
Two Indiana Department of Correction inspections over the past two years have cited the county jail for overcrowding and understaffing, recommending that 11 correction officers be hired to be fully staffed. The council has allocated money over the past two years to hire five people, and Tuesday, Bottoms asked them to fund six more positions to meet the DOC inspection recommendation.
"What's the plan for the overcrowding?" asked councilman Derek McGraw.
The sheriff reported that judges are working to help ease some of the overcrowding with some early releases and time-served sentences where appropriate.
Commissioner Steve Bottoms said the consulting firm hired to develop a plan to address the problems is expected to present the study findings to commissioners in May.
Councilman Dan Beard asked whether the current positions are fully staffed, and the sheriff said there are two correction officer positions that came open when one officer joined the sheriff's department and another took a position in another city. He estimated it takes about two months to recruit and test candidates.
"We're looking at all options, but the only thing that can be done now is to hire more officers," commissioner Bottoms told the council.
Councilman Jeremy Overton asked whether there's a plan in place to solve the other problems with toilets and beds.
Bottoms reported that some area jails have beds available, but the county would have to pay $35 per inmate per day, plus transport and medical costs.
Councilman Craig Pflug said that while paying other counties to house Gibson County inmates might not be the long-term solution, it is an immediate fix.
McGraw said the county doesn't have an extra $450,000 to $500,000 to spend to immediately hire six more corrections officers.
"Until you have a plan for the building, the only thing to do is to get the census down," Pflug said.
"About 95 percent of the lawsuit is about overcrowding. If we get the right plan in place, we would have to lay off people down the road," McGraw said. "Give us a plan. That's all we're asking for." He reminded commissioners that the county has funded almost half of the additional positions recommended.
"It just seems that to address the immediate issue is to find a place to house inmates," Pflug said.
"You're saying you've got the money to move the people, correct?" the sheriff asked.
"It would be worth trying to solve the immediate problem...and track costs," Pflug suggested.
Council President Jay Riley asked whether there's room in the community corrections building to house some of the inmates. The sheriff said some inmates who qualify are being housed at the work release center.
"This can be taken care of temporarily and that's all we can do," said councilman Bill McConnell. "We authorize you to hire and you can't fill the positions...what can we do working with the judges...to resolve this temporarily? It (jail overcrowding) is all over the state."
Commissioner Bottoms said the commissioners complied with the inspection citations by requesting additional staffing and submitting a plan for addressing the problem, which includes a study of the existing jail design to see what they can do.
"You guys do what you've got to do," the sheriff told the council. "I'm here just asking what the state recommended. You do what you've got to do."
"The quickest way is to find a bed for them," said Pflug.