Sheriffs can help unlock jail challenges


South Bend Tribune

Sheriffs from across the state are taking it upon themselves to get state legislators to address some of the most pressing problems facing jails today.

Vanderburgh County Sheriff Dave Wedding has formed a committee of sheriffs from both major political parties to address issues such as overcrowding, mentally ill inmates, understaffing and inadequate funding.

Sheriffs from Allen, LaPorte, Madison, Hamilton, Knox and Posey counties have been asked to be part of the committee that will lobby state legislators. Though they represent a cross-section of the state, noticeably absent from the committee are St. Joseph County and Sheriff Mike Grzgorek.

St. Joseph County deserves a seat at the table when it comes to tackling the issues facing jails today.

But just because St. Joseph County — fifth-largest in the state, with a population of nearly 270,000 — isn’t represented on the committee doesn’t mean it isn’t facing the same critical issues.

For starters, legislators passed a law recently that diverts nonviolent offenders and drug users to county jails instead of state prisons. Though the law may be well-intentioned by removing low-level felons from state prisons and placing them with a better support network, the move is putting pressure on counties to accept more inmates without getting additional money to help pay for their care.

The Indiana Department of Corrections pays county jails $35 a day to house each low-level inmate. That per diem hasn’t changed in more than 20 years, according to an Associated Press report.

But there are other pressures facing jails too, including housing an increasing number of people with opioid addictions, as well as those with mental illnesses. St. Joseph County Assistant Police Chief Bill Thompson described it as “a huge problem.”

These are difficult challenges that won’t easily be solved. They’re not political issues. They’re the day-to-day fights that sheriffs in every county in the state face. It makes sense that they should be the ones relied upon to help find solutions.

This was distributed by Hoosier State Press Association.

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