After months of surveys, observations, data collection and conversations with county employees and officials, recommendations for what Jefferson County has to consider for a new jail came in a 207-page report.

County commissioners received last night the final study from the consultants it hired to make recommendations to address jail issues outlined by state inspectors.

Eric Weflen, RQAW’s director of architecture, in outlining highlights of the report reminded the commissioners that they have different options to consider moving forward — including the new jail’s site, how many beds it needs and how many beds will be inside the facility at first.

“We (RQAW) focus on trying to reduce recidivism when we take on these projects,” said Weflen. He said one way his design team tries to fight this issue is by working with counties to make programming space available inside the jail, close to where the inmates who will use the space are housed for increased efficiency and safety.

The county hired RQAW to conduct a study to determine the county’s 20-year need for the jail and sheriff’s office to provide options to improve the safety and daily operations of the jail.

“The existing jail is significantly difficult to manage,” said Eflen, citing concerns for managing safety with an increasing inmate population.

The commissioners, who have been asking questions and attending jail committee meetings throughout the study process, have to review the full final report and start discussing which options they may choose in regards to site and jail design. They will meet again in two to three weeks, but did not set a date and time Thursday. In the coming months, the commission will have to pick a site for the jail, choose funding options and create funds within the county budget to pay for the project, draft and release a proposal for bids from contractors and more before any site development and construction can begin. Weflen estimated that once construction begins it will take about 18 months to complete the jail, depending on weather, time of year and other factors.

Sheriff John Wallace asked the commission to take the next steps in the process prudently and urgently. He explained that as time goes on necessary equipment inside the jail continues to age, become harder to maintain and more expensive to repair or replace.

Jefferson County is one of many counties in the state facing building a new jail to fight aging and overcrowded facilities. The county commission and council were given 180 days to develop a plan of action after an annual inspection of the Jefferson County Jail in August 2017 found several areas of noncompliance within Indiana Jail Standards. The state’s inspection found the jail is overcrowded, lacks enough beds and toilet and shower facilities, has inadequate space and is understaffed. The current jail, located in downtown Madison has a maximum capacity of 109 inmates. The average daily inmate population in 2017 was 140. RQAW’s projections based on historic data and predicted trends put the potential average daily inmate population at 250 by 2037.

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