ANDERSON – The Vanderburgh County sheriff has formed an ad hoc committee to lobby lawmakers concerning jail overcrowding and providing treatment for people with mental health issues.
Sheriff Dave Wedding said Thursday that the sheriffs from eight Indiana counties, including Madison County Sheriff Scott Mellinger, will meet in Muncie during the annual Indiana Sheriffs' Association gathering later this month.
“There are several Indiana counties where the inmate population is excessive,” Wedding said. “Many of the inmates are dealing with mental health and drug addiction problems.
“We’re holding mentally ill persons, that would be better situated at a mental health facility, for months at a time,” he said.
Mellinger said Wedding reached out to sheriffs having legislative experience and facing an overcrowding problem at their local facilities.
“We want to look at the big picture,” he said, “which are inmates dealing with mental health and drug addiction problems.
“I think the ad hoc group is a good idea because we’re not caring for inmates with mental health and drug addictions,” Mellinger said.
Wedding said one of the proposals is to ask lawmakers to increase the per diem paid by the state for jail inmates from $35 to $50.
“That might give us more money to make capital improvements,” he said. “We need to draw more people into the discussion to include mental health professionals.
“This is a communitywide problem,” Wedding said. “It needs to be dealt with by a lot of different people.”
The Vanderburgh County jail was housing 700 inmates in a jail designed to house 540 people, he said.
In Madison County the jail population has recently been as high as 315 inmates in a facility designed to house 207.
“We need to find funding to build places and staff it accordingly for people that are acutely mentally ill,” Wedding said. “They need to start getting the help and treatment they need.”
Wedding said a 40-bed facility could be constructed in Vanderburgh County to provide treatment for all of southwestern Indiana when it comes to treating the mentally ill.
“We could share the costs,” he said.
Raising the state's per diem rate to $50 will not solve the problem, Mellinger said. “It won’t buy us bed space.”
Earlier this year during discussions about a possible new jail for Madison County, Mellinger proposed a separate facility for prisoners dealing with mental health problems.
Mellinger said the ad hoc group hopes to meet with Lt. Gov. Suzanne Crouch and former Clay County Sheriff Robert Carter, who is now the Indiana Department of Correction commissioner.
Wedding said the ad hoc committee consists of a bipartisan group of sheriffs from counties with different sized jails. The counties represented are Vanderburgh, Madison, Porter, LaPorte, Hamilton, Knox and Posey.