5/11/2017 4:32:00 PM $15 million upgrade requested for overcrowded Harrison County jail
Ross Schulz, Corydon Democrat
The Harrison County Council heard a presentation Monday night concerning the need for more space at the Harrison County Jail and Justice Center.
The jail currently is overcrowded, with 173 inmates, seven of whom are housed in the Crawford County Jail, Sheriff Rodney (Rod) Seelye said.
A proposed approximately $14 million to $15 million addition will double the number of original inmate beds from 150 to 300 (23 beds were added during a renovation/remodel in 2012).
The project concept, presented by Mark Shireman of Shireman Construction, would build out from the current building on the south side and up, creating two floors of new space.
It also would fill in the second floor atrium to allow for more space for the courts and eliminate a safety issue.
The jail was deemed overcrowded in June 2016 by the state jail inspector, who said the facility exceeded the rated capacity on the day of inspection by six inmates.
In September of last year, Seelye said, 56 female inmates were in the jail, exactly doubling the alloted bed space for female inmates.
Eleven females were transferred to Crawford County at a cost of $35 each per day to lessen the overcrowding.
Even when inmates are transferred to another facility, they still fall under Harrison County's jurisdiction and liability.
"If we send Peggy Sue to another facility and she gets her head split or some other medical-care need arises, she's still our inmate; we'll have that responsibility," Seelye said.
Seelye said some jails do not have the same standards as Harrison County and it would be best to have all of the county inmates in-house.
"I'm very proud of our staff, very proud," he said. "We're the second jail in state of Indiana to obtain national accreditation."
He said inmates at the Harrison County Jail are treated very well, until they give them a reason not to be treated well.
Both in Harrison County and nationally, the number of female offenders has skyrocketed.
"Everybody right now is looking for bed space for female offenders," Seelye said. "Part of that problem probably is the opioid epidemic that, like everybody else, we're experiencing. But, we have a lot more female offenders and there's not a place to put them in our facility."
The jail population, male and female, continues to rise in Harrison County.
In 2010, there were approximately 1,000 individuals booked. Last year, the total reached 1,120, and, this year, the jail is on pace to book 1,224 inmates.
To come up with that figure, Seelye multiplied the total from the first four months of the year by three.
"The problem with that figure is we really, really go up in the summer months," he said. "So that number (1,224) will probably be low."
The county's population has grown considerably, some 25 percent, since the jail was built in 1996.
That and the opioid epidemic have contributed to the rise in the number of inmates.
"Drug arrests have went up dramatically since 2010 ... like 200 to 300 percent," Seelye said.
A change at the state level also has contributed to the problem, he said.
In 2016, the state closed several minimum security prisons and directed counties to hold Level 6 felony offenders to serve their Indiana Department of Corrections time.
"Once they were convicted (lower level felony), they were the state's problem," Seelye said. "By closing those prisons and putting the burden on us, they saved the state a lot of money, but they also did a number on the jails. And that means people we would have normally, after conviction, shipped to be someone else's problem, they are now our problem."
The county jail currently has 21 Level 6 felons who would have otherwise been sent elsewhere, Jail Commander Dustin Cundall said.
Seelye said Harrison County doesn't want to get to a point like Jefferson County, Ky., where accused murderers are being released on home incarceration because of overcrowding issues.
Seelye said they also can't pile inmates on top of each other, a mistake a lot of facilities make.
"Then you'll have sanitation issues and fights," he said.
Seelye said he expects the proposed project will take care of overcrowding issues for 15 to 20 years. He called Harrison County the "best kept secret around" and expects growth to take off in the coming years.
Superior Court Judge Joseph (Joe) Claypool and Prosecutor J. Otto Schalk also spoke in favor of the project.
They said if it wasn't for their ability to work together, along with the sheriff's department, the lack of space would be more of an issue.