A rapid expansion of the population at the Jackson County Jail the past few months recently led Sheriff Mike Carothers to move 10 inmates to the Switzerland County Jail.
The sheriff said Wednesday he also anticipates moving more prisoners to that jail or other less-crowded jails to reduce the inmate population of the jail to a manageable level.
The jail population stood at 244 Wednesday, 72 above the jail’s official bed count of 172.
The tipping point for Carothers occurred Sept. 4 when there were 279 inmates at the jail.
That’s when he decided to transfer eight men and two women to Switzerland County, a move that required a van and a transport officer for the eight men. Carothers and his wife, Brenda Carothers, who is the jail matron, transferred the female prisoners in a separate vehicle.
Carothers estimated the cost of transporting the 10 prisoners was about $250.
The county also has to pay Switzerland County $35 a day to house the inmates from here.
The county, however, is receiving $35 a day from the state for eight of those inmates because they have been convicted of Level 6 felonies. Two of the men were county holds.
The state stopped accepting prisoners convicted of Level 6 felonies in 2016 and required counties to hold those prisoners.
Carothers recently reminded county commissioners of his prediction in 2016 that the jail’s population would reach 300 by the end of the year in part because of the state’s decision.
When that didn’t happen, he thought it might have been mistaken, Carothers said during a Sept. 5 commissioners meeting.
The recent growth in the jail’s population to 260, however, has him reconsidering his prediction, Carothers said.
“Four years from now, we will be sitting on 300 or 400 inmates,” he told commissioners.
“I’m not going to let it get that overcrowded,” he said. “I am going to have to start farming them out.”
Through the first eight months of this year, the average daily inmate count has been 229. In the past three months, however, the average daily inmate count has been 239. In August, it was 258.
Earlier this year, commissioners reestablished a committee to look at the overcrowding issue, both in the short term and in the long term.
One of the long-term plans involves adding a pod to the back side of the present jail. That project won’t occur until after the Jackson County Judicial Center project is completed sometime in late summer or early fall of 2018.
Carothers said the committee, comprised of himself, Commissioner Drew Markel, county councilmen Brian Thompson and Dave Hall, Seymour City Councilman David Earley and Jackson Circuit Court Judge Richard W. Poynter, has met twice since it was formed.
The first meeting identified the issue, he said.
“That wasn’t hard,” Carothers said.
The second meeting involved discussions of some possible solutions to getting the inmate count down quickly.
That’s an issue the Indiana Department of Correction asked the county to address within 180 days of the most recent jail inspection in June.
One option is transferring prisoners to counties that still have space, although Carothers said it’s hard to find because 80 of the state’s 92 counties have issues with overcrowding and a lack of staffing.
The committee also is looking at the possibility of repurposing some areas of the jail for additional beds and bringing in portable housing, such as the kind schools use to address overcrowding, Carothers said.
One 72-bed portable housing unit could take the jail down to capacity quickly, he said. A cost estimate for such a unit is not available at this time, but the county could finance the purchase and use the money it receives from holding Level 6 offenders to repay the purchase price, he said.
Once the jail addition is built, the county could sell the portable unit and recoup some of the costs, Carothers said.
“That’s the best scenario I could come up with,” he said.
And it’s something that could be accomplished pretty quickly once he receives the green light from commissioners and the county council.
The unit would have to be placed in front of the present jail near Jackson Street on Brownstown’s east side so utility connections would be easy to make and to be near the jail, he said.
Carothers said he did not want to put any portable housing behind the present pod because it would be in the way of the expansion project.
There is one other possibility. It involves converting the 28-bed juvenile detention center to 56 beds for adults.
That’s an idea that would be up to commissioners to approve, and it’s one they have rejected in the past because of the cost of housing juveniles elsewhere. The center also brings in some revenue when juveniles from other counties are held there.
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Jackson County Jail average daily inmate count
2017;229 (through Aug. 31)