Chesterton Tribune

Sheriff and judges push for study of county jail crowding

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No official decision was made Tuesday by Porter County officials to improve crowding conditions at the jail, but law enforcement officials showed they were eager to get started.

County Council vice-president Karen Conover, R-3rd, announced the decision to pull the discussion from the meeting agenda until a later date when the council could discuss the matter with the county commissioners, judges, sheriff’s police and county prosecutor offices.

“This is bigger than this board,” said Conover, who led the meeting in absence of president Dan Whitten, D-at large.

But Sheriff David Lain and Circuit Court Judge Mary Harper have already got momentum going having suggested a study be done by the National Institute of Corrections (NIC) that would look at the types of inmates being held at the jail such as finding which are violent or non-violent offenders. According to Lain, NIC will perform the service at no cost to the county.

“Step one is assessment of (inmate) population,” he said.

NIC is a federal agency under the U.S. Department of Justice’s Federal Bureau of Prisons and is available to assist local law enforcements with other services such as training.

The study should be performed over the summer, Lain said.

Harper said her offices have already assessed the number of inmates she has in her court that are housed at the jail. Some of the inmates could be moved out of the jail including low-felony inmates who have not been able to meet their bonds, Harper said, or those that could be moved into programs such as pretrial supervision and electronic home monitoring.

“There may be some low-hanging fruit in there we can get out of there — not a lot, but some,” Harper said. “There may be a number of ways to approach this.”

The county had a jail population study once before in the late 1990s, Harper said, before the new jail was built and completed in Fall 2002. There was also a committee formed which would regularly study populations at the former jail but was discontinued when the current jail opened and overcrowding was no longer seen as a problem, Harper said.

Lain addressed a letter to the council and the commissioners on May 1 indicating the number of inmates housed at the jail outnumbered the available beds by more than 100. The letter also asserts the need to open up the remaining one-third of the jail which would require finding a way to hire more personnel.

Lain said Tuesday that if the third pod were to be opened up now “it would be full.” He advocated finding more to move inmates out of the facility so the jail would not have to continue operating above full capacity and hopes to have the issue resolved before he gives up his post as county sheriff in 2014.

Another plea Lain made in the letter is to hire more medical staff as none are available between the hours of 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. Right now medical duties are left to jail officers. Lain said when medical emergencies happen during those hours, the inmates are taken to the emergency room but the practice “is not as cost effective” as having jail medical staff perform onsite treatment.

Council member Jim Biggs, R-1st, said he is willing to hear any recommendations from the sheriff and the judges.

“Any time you’re ready,” Biggs said to Lain. “These are the issues we need to discuss. We’re locked and loaded to help.”

Animal Control Staff Increased

In another matter, the council approved a separate request from Lain 6-0 to bring on another officer for animal control. The animal control budget has enough for three positions, Lain said, and currently one of the two animal control officers has been off work receiving Workman’s Comp and it is unknown when he’ll return.

The council approved the third animal control officer at a salary of $32,528. Lain said since the position was already budgeted, the additional requires no new money. He said he has no intentions of adding more officers to animal control.

Before the vote, Council member Sylvia Graham, D-at large, said the consultants for a new animal shelter recommended to hire animal control officers under the supervision of the county animal shelter instead of the sheriff and suggested the commissioners should first be consulted to see how they wish to handle the matter.

Lain said it was the commissioners who decided to make animal control a division of the sheriff’s police and felt it fit in “perfectly because it is a public safety issue.” He said the shelter consultant did not contact him on recommendations of how the shelter and animal control should work.

Mild winter saves over $1 million

The council decided unanimously to approve $500,000 of Major Moves money left over from last year to purchase bituminous material to blacktop county roads.

County Highway Superintendent Al Hoagland said he plans to pave three miles of roadway this week.

Biggs inquired as to how much the department saved on salt due to this winter’s mild temperatures. Hoagland said overall, between plowing and materials, the county saved over $1 million.

Porter County is one of few counties in Indiana that was able to hold on to its allotment of salt, providing more savings.

“We’re going to be in better shape this year than we were last year,” said Hoagland.

Also on Tuesday, the council agreed 6-0 for the first payout of longevity to county employees. The $171,900 amount is from council’s casino money fund.


Posted 5/23/2012