Of all the places you go in life, let’s hope jail is not one of them.
But if trouble finds you and you do land behind bars, or just a night in the
pokey, the Porter County Jail is not a bad place to be.
If you’re lucky, you’ll get a cell and your very own bed to sleep in. But
hurry, because they’re going fast.
And that’s how it’s been for almost a decade.
The National Institute of Corrections issued its technical assistance report
on the PCJ this week and although it found many nice things to say about the
people who run the “very clean” jail, one thing is very certain.
“There is no question that the jail is crowded and under-staffed. Officials
must take immediate action to activate and open (the third) pod,” said the
77-page report which was done by the NIC without any cost to the county.
Representatives met with county stakeholders in mid August and toured the
156,000 square-foot jail facility just south of U.S. 30 on Ind. 49.
The agency in its report asserts that more officers – preferably a lot more
– are needed to activate the jail’s B pod which has been vacant ever since
the jail opened in October 2002 – ten years to be exact. Only pods A and C
are currently in use.
Pods A and C together have a total of 341 beds with an average daily
population (ADP) of about 420 inmates. The report said as many as 85
inmates, a little more than 20 percent, don’t have permanent beds to sleep
on and must use portable cots they call “boats” on the floor, a practice
that is typical of most overcrowded jails nationwide.
The document says that jail overcrowding and inadequate sleeping conditions
in the past ten years have been “driven” by two big policies: using only two
of the three pods and boarding state and federal inmates. It specifically
recommends the county accept any “discretionary” inmates when the jail is at
Opening up the B pod would add 109 beds. That would give the jail full use
of its 450 beds but the NIC said the county should aim for a “Classification
Capacity” or 85 percent of maximum capacity for optimal use. The
classification capacity with all three pods open would be 383 beds.
It was 2004 when the ADP exceeded its capacity by six inmates. The facility
exceeded all capacity levels the following year when its ADP was 489, but
the figure included much more state and federal DOC prisoners who were
voluntarily housed for a fee paid to the county.
Before 2008, the county received well over $1 million in revenue to house
state and federal prisoners but the fees took a dive and last year the
collections amounted to just $850,000. Now more than 90 percent of the
inmates are county inmates which is causing a drain on the county coffers.
A huge liability
Overcrowding is a problem but it is not the biggest, according to Sheriff
David Lain. The most urgent matter in all of this is paucity in PCJ’s
“Never in (the jail’s) history has it had 24 hour medical service. I
emphasize that this situation is unsustainable. Inmate medical issues are
the single biggest opportunity for liabilities to occur in county
government. We cannot afford to keep this system that is decades old in
place. We have to upgrade,” Lain told the Chesterton Tribune.
Lain made the same comments in a letter he addressed to county officials and
the courts, asking them to “redouble your efforts to help reduce our jail
And redouble they may as the County Council is now in seriously considering
opening the B pod. A decision to hire more officers and medical staff could
be made in the 2013 county budget hearings.
Currently there are five medical staff employees who work during the day but
none during the hours of 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. simply because there has never
been money budgeted to pay overnight staff. When inmates come into the PCJ,
they are medically assessed by jail officers who decide if someone needs to
see a physician, and if the situation calls for it, the person is taken to
the hospital which can be costly, Lain said.
The PCJ’s County Council liaison Jim Biggs agrees with the importance of
staffing medical personnel since it is required by law.
“The Supreme Court has stated that prisoners must have the availability to
medical services the same as those who are not incarcerated. It’s
constitutional,” Biggs said.
The NIC report did not profile the PCJ’s need for medical staff, only the
conditions of the crowding issue. Lain said he has put in a request to the
NIC to do another report strictly on the needed medical staffing and in the
meantime is creating a Request for Proposals to “flesh out” medical services
even before that report is complete.
“It’s that critical,” he said.
The NIC crowding report does however give specifics on the number of jail
officers needed to open the third pod.
The most basic option calls for the hiring of 12 additional officers if the
county wishes to make no changes to its current population model.
A second option referred to as the “Basic Supervision Plan” would increase
personnel by an additional 36 officers, adding one officer to cover the main
control overnight shift, more medical officers and some for housing and
An “Enhanced Supervision Plan” seeks more officers on each shift and would
require an additional 42 correctional officers.
But in the NIC’s strong recommendation, which Lain said he will also propose
to the County Council, the county should hire no less than 16 officers to
activate the B pod “as soon as possible” with an acceptable level of inmate
As of now the PCJ has a total of 50 correctional officers that it budgets
for and has done so since the jail opened.
The beef-up would raise the PCJ’s budget by $1.5 million, Lain estimates.
A request of that nature would probably put stress on the County Council
which is in the midst of mulling how to make up the $2 million loss this
year due to the tax caps, but Biggs stated the Council can afford to
increase staffing in the jail as well as developing and maintaining Pod B.
“But in order for us to do so we must prioritize,” he said.
The county’s current economic development income tax fund (CEDIT) is most
often used for county roads, building repairs and drainage projects, but it
could be redirected, without raising rates, to public safety operations such
as the PCJ and Enhanced 911. It would also be more efficient, Biggs said, as
often the CEDIT funds collected by the commissioners are put into projects
that don’t always use the full amounts and funds sit idle.
CEDIT could be used for recurring expenses as it is collected annually while
monies held in reserve funds could be used for one-time projects like
drainage repairs, Biggs said.
“If we could agree to redirect CEDIT to fill the void in the county jail and
fill the void for E-911, two of our largest issues would be solved,” Biggs
said. He believes a majority of his fellow Council members are supportive of
the idea for opening up the jail pod with unallocated CEDIT funds.
Lain said the pod could be opened in a matter of weeks pending approval by
the County Council. Some “retrofitting” would be required to update the
equipment inside costing around $120,000 which Lain said is already
available in his budget.
If more personnel is hired to man the third pod, Lain said he would need six
weeks for training. Otherwise, activating the pod should be a smooth
County Commissioner President John Evans, R-North, told the Tribune
he would like to see money from the refinancing of the 2001 jail building
bonds go toward the third pod. The county netted about $1.3 million when the
commissioners agreed to the refinancing last year.
Hiring the staff would be up to the Council, Evans said. The commissioners’
role would only be to approve contracts for the B pod.
Earlier this month, Evans spoke publicly of his intention to look at
proposals from private security firms which could offer services to maintain
the jail at lower costs than the county’s. The move could save money, he
said, partly because the county would no longer need to provide worker
Biggs said that the Jail Advisory Board which he served on had looked into
the possibility of privatizing operations in 1998 before the current jail
was built. An expert from the University of Florida advised that
privatization would not necessarily lessen the county’s financial liability
and the firm would provide the service to pay benefits to those employees.
From what he gathered from talks with the NIC when they were doing the exit
interviews, Biggs said the jail was complemented on its efficiency and
chances for improvement with privatization are only slight.
Biggs also said that the jail would have to be brought up to code before
anyone was to take over the jail.
Lastly, the report said county officials could introduce new policies or
practices that would likely mitigate the high volume of inmates.
The NIC offered a few ideas -- using more home detentions, alcoholic
monitoring devices, establishing a halfway house for women in Portage, and
providing inmate classification services on weekends to move inmates out of
their holding cells.
The most frequent charge in terms of admissions is Failure to Appear,
followed by Operating While Intoxicated and Driving While Suspended. More
than 70 percent of the inmates are pretrial detainees.
Lain said he will talk with the prosecutor’s office next week on the
potential of keeping some with minor offenses out of cells, possibly issuing
a summons to those individuals instead of a custodial arrest.
Criminal justice and public safety make up a lion’s share of any county’s
budget, Lain said, and while the conditions are not favorable, continued
cooperation from the judges and prosecutors have been integral in handling
the jail crowding problem that has persisted year after year as budgets
“We have made due just because we have a tremendous staff of very dedicated,
bright officers. We have a well written set of rules that are duly enforced.
That’s the only reason we’ve been able to get by,” said Lain who is in his
second term as county sheriff.
“It’s my responsibility to make this place better when I leave than when I