The Jefferson County jail committee met Monday evening with consultants working on plans for a new jail to relieve the constant overcrowding issue that the jail now faces.

The group traded updates on several fronts and asked more questions of each other regarding budget and finance options for the project.

The company, RQAW of Indianapolis, presented a concept of the jail on land the county owns inside the former Jefferson Proving Grounds off JPG Ordnance Road. The proposed site is 2.5 miles from the edge of Madison, about 1.5 miles into the Jefferson Providing Grounds from the start of the fencing along U.S. 421.

The jail committee’s meetings and work with RQAW will lead to a recommendation to the county council and to the commissioners. The two governing bodies will have final say in approving the project and the funds to pay for it. The committee was in unofficial agreement Monday that a new jail, outside of the downtown historic district was the solution to the overcrowding problem.

The committee commented that they like the site, which already belongs to the county, because of potential to add facilities after the jail is constructed and functional. The potential additions mentioned throughout the meeting included a gun range for county law enforcement, the county animal shelter and any future additions to the jail that might be needed.

Three committemembers — Jail Matron Libby Hoffman, Jail Commander Shelia Harrison and Sheriff John Wallace — expressed concern about the increasing average daily inmate population and maintenance costs in the current jail.

Wallace said July’s average daily inmate population was 162. The facility’s maximum capacity is 109 inmates.

Jefferson County is one of many in the state experiencing overcrowding. RQAW has worked with other Hoosier counties in recent years to build new facilities. Other counties also are trying to find different solutions to decrease their inmate populations and increase safety for inmates and jail staff.

In September of 2017, Jefferson County commissioners and council members were given 180 days to develop a plan of action after an annual inspection of the Jefferson County Jail found several areas of noncompliance within Indiana Jail Standards. The feasibility study RQAW is putting together with the input from many county employees and representatvies is part of the county’s plan of action.

The inspection report completed by Kenneth J. Whipker, the Indiana Department of Correction’s executive liaison for sheriff and county jail operations, described several issues stemming from overcrowding at the jail — an ongoing issue that Wallace had highlighted to county officials for months. The report indicated the jail suffers from overcrowding, as well as a lack of beds, a lack of toilet and shower facilities, inadequate space and understaffing.

Wallace said then that the overcrowding problem is something noted in the annual inspection almost every year.

“Almost every county deals with it,” Wallace said. Other counties in the state — including Jennings, Monroe and Gibson — have received noncompliance status due to overcrowding and were issued a 180-day notice to complete a plan of action.

The report indicated the Jefferson County Jail has a capacity for 109 inmates, but there were 124 inmates incarcerated at the jail during the inspection on Aug. 25. Wallace said the jail had housed up to 160 inmates at one time before.

The overcrowding issue also led to a lack of beds in the facility. State jail standards requires each inmate to have “access to a hard and fixed bed.”

The jail often uses portable bunks to deal with the overcrowding issue.

An inmate population exceeding the jail capacity also led to a lack of toilet and shower facilities as state law requires. State law indicates there should be at least one toilet and one shower per 12 inmates.

State law also requires at least 35 square feet of space per inmate at the jail in cells, while there should be 50 square feet of total space per inmate in dormitories. The requirement was in violation due to exceeding the rated capacity.

Whipker also found the Jefferson County Jail to be understaffed during the annual inspection based on the latest staffing analysis — and due to the overcrowding.

“There shall be sufficient jail personnel in the jail at all times to provide adequate supervision of inmates and to ensure staff and inmate safety,” Whipker wrote in the report. “On the day of inspection, the county council failed to properly staff the jail to meet the staffing requirements based upon the latest staffing analysis.”

Whipker also noted that due to overcrowding issues, the sheriff is “unable to properly segregate and classify the inmate population. The jail lacks sufficient empty bed space for the classification process.”

The report indicated 20 percent or more of the jail’s beds should be empty on a daily basis to properly move and classify the inmate population.

Wallace said at the time that the jail is “clearly understaffed,” and he worried about both inmates and staff, but overcrowding in county jails is an issue in about every county in Indiana.

He noted the overcrowding issue at the jail wasn’t helped by the state mandate to house Level 6 offenders at the county level. The law was meant to help low-level offenders stay out of the Indiana Department of Correction system and be a cost-saving measure to the state, but the law has caused an increase of inmates at the local level.

RQAW representatives explained Monday night that the county could build the block concept they presented for an estimated $23 million to $25 million, but that there were many contingencies at work that could affect the overall final cost.

RQAW will present its final study findings to the commissioners at the regular meeting at 5 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 6.

The full jail committee is comprised of Commissioner Dave Brammer, County Councilman Ray Denning, Shelby Bear of Community Corrections and Cathy Chandler with the Jefferson House in addition to Hoffman, Harrison and Wallace.



Courier staff writer Tali Hunt can be reached at 812-265-3641 ext. 234 or thunt@madisoncourier.com