A state law requiring counties to take care of their low-level offenders instead of shipping them off to prison has begun pushing the daily population of the 172-bed Jackson County Jail toward 300.
Sheriff Mike Carothers predicts the jail will reach that number before the end of the year, if not much sooner, unless something is done to lower the count.
Since the beginning of the year when the change went into effect, the average inmate count at the jail has grown from 208 a day in January to 236 in April. The average daily inmate count in 2015 was 204.
[sc:text-divider text-divider-title=”Story continues below gallery” ]
That increase has jail staff searching for temporary places for inmates to bed down at night. Many of them are sleeping on mats on the floor in the jail’s two dormitory-style pods, Carothers said.
Carothers recently talked with county commissioners about some of the options to possibly ease overcrowding. That includes a couple of short-term options that could be easily accomplished.
The first is one that is not popular with everyone. It involves converting the 28-bed juvenile detention center into housing for female inmates. Adults can be double-bunked in each cell, and that would increase the center’s capacity to 56 inmates.
Commissioners President Matt Reedy said he thought the juvenile detention center is a “great deterrent,” so he didn’t want to see that closed.
A second involves converting the indoor/outdoor recreation area into cells, holding more than 32 beds, at a cost of about $456,000.
Carothers said there are a few other possible ways to ease overcrowding in the longer term.
The first, and most obvious, would be a 192-bed addition to the north of the present jail, Carothers said.
That project presently has a price tag of $8 million, he said.
Commissioners currently are considering the idea of building a justice center to house Jackson Superior Court II on county-owned property at Sugar and Walnut streets, Carothers said.
That project has a $12 million price tag, he said.
Carothers said he would like to see commissioners consider placing the justice center on county-owned property on the west side of the jail along Jackson Street and connecting it to the jail. He figures that could be done for the same price tag as building the new justice center, and it also would improve security because prisoners would not have to leave the building to go to court, he said.
Another method of reducing the jail population would involve transferring inmates from the Jackson County Jail to other jails.
“I could take 50 to another jail and pay $45 a day per inmate,” Carothers said.
During a year’s time, that would be about $820,000.
“For that kind of money, we could build an addition,” he said.
Carothers said there’s another option available to reducing the jail population, but it’s one he doesn’t like or think would be particularly popular with the public.
“The judges could sentence people to less time,” he said. “But if that’s the case, we’re wasting our time arresting people.”
County Councilman Brian Thompson recently said he would prefer a review of the whole judicial process to see about tweaking things to try to reduce the inmate population. That would mean sitting down with the judges, sheriff, prosecutor, public defender, probation department and the director of community corrections and trying to find some solutions.
“That’s going to take some time,” Thompson said.
Thompson said it’s too early to tell if the implementation of a new public defender’s office earlier this year is going to make a difference.
Carothers said the public defender’s office will not reduce the time inmates spend in jail, but it could get many in front of the judge quicker.
He said the program has done away with many inmate complaints that they haven’t seen their attorney.
J.L. Brewer, director of Jackson-Jennings Community Corrections, has been asking the county to consider putting a work release center in Seymour to help alleviate overcrowding at the jail.
That’s a project that hasn’t gained much headway, although both Thompson and Carothers said the idea has merits and could help with the issue. However, it would still take something that’s in short supply — money.
Thompson said the present plan is to look at building a justice center in 2019 when the present bonds for the jail and juvenile center are paid off. About four years later, the bonds for a project for the courthouse and courthouse annex will be off the books, and that would be the time to consider a jail expansion, he said.
“The needs are always going to be there, and the longer you wait, the more it’s going to cost,” he said.
Carothers said he would like to see the county consider implementing a local county option income tax.
“I don’t want to see anymore taxes than anyone else,” he said.
Revenues from that tax can only be used for public safety, he said.
County council members have discussed the idea of implementing the 0.25 percent tax on income in the past.
During jail inspections in June, inspectors talked about overcrowding and the need for at least seven additional jailers, Carothers said. The possibility of adding jailers is brought up during budget talks each year but rarely makes any headway.
Those inspectors also recommend converting the juvenile detention center to a pod for female inmates, he said.
But the real answer to overcrowding is pretty simple, Carothers said.
“I think we actually need to have fewer criminals,” he said while acknowledging that’s not likely to happen.
[sc:pullout-title pullout-title=”At a glance” ][sc:pullout-text-begin]
Inmate population at the Jackson County Jail in Brownstown by monthly average: