Madison Courier special report

The number of inmates in the Jefferson County jail was at an all-time high Friday morning at 185.

By midafternoon, that number was into the mid-160s.

Par of the reason was the the normal ebb and flow of law enforcement and the judicial system and part was because of the efforts of Jefferson County Sheriff Dave Thomas who was able to find other counties with space in the jail to take nine inmates.

Thomas said he spends more and more time trying to find places to take some of the inmate population. He said is reaching farther out from this area to accomplish the task.

He also noted that the inmates he was able to move Friday were all Level 6 felons, which means the state will pay the additional costs of their stay in another jail. Because the inmates had been sentence, they do not have to be moved back and forth between the jail and courthouse.

“I’m going to keep this jail at the safest level I can,” Thomas said, noting that “it costs money every day.”

He was quick to point out, though, that the population number can change rapidly, especially when events result in multiple arrests.

Chief Deputy John Wallace said early Friday morning there were 15 inmates who had been relocated to various other facilities. With the addition of the nine Thomas found spots for, that meant 24 were housed elsewhere by day’s end.

Most of Indiana’s 92 counties are wrestling with overcrowded jails and many have been cited by the state because there are more inmates in the facilities than the jails are certified to hold.

Jefferson County’s jail is certified to hold 109. While the population usually fluctuates daily, the total number has remained at least in the 160s since early June.

The county reports the head count in the jail each day on its website.

The county was cited by state inspectors in 2017 for several areas of noncompliance in the operations of the jail. The inspection report described multiple issues including overcrowding, lack of beds, toilet and shower facilities, adequate space and understaffing.

After the 2017 inspection, the county commissioners and council were given 180 days to make an action plan to correct the areas of noncompliance.

The Exploratory Jail Committee was created in response to the citations and tasked with researching options such as building a new jail. The committee includes representatives from the commission, council, sheriff’s department and community corrections. They have conducted public meetings over the last 18 months, obtained a feasibility study to address the facility’s potential size and costs and to enable conversations to begin on the best way to find architects, contractors and suppliers for the project. There has been no formal vote to build a new jail but the approval of a new jail will come as the commissioners put out bids for contractors on the project and the county council approves those expenditures.

A 50-acre tract of land that adjoins J.A. Berry Lane and is west of the former Robus Leather facility has been discussed as a possible site for a jail, but the land is undergoing some final studies and soil tests before any decision will be made.

For more information:

The feasibility study, daily headcount of inmates and other jail information is available on the county’s website at https://jeffersoncounty.in.gov/487/Jail-Plans-Information