A presenter from DLZ, a leading designer of correctional facilities, stated there’s only one Indiana jail built in the 1970s still in operation, with only a handful from the 1980s.

“Your 1984 jail is doing a whole lot more today than it was designed for,” DLZ Principal Architect Eric Ratts assessed. “But it’s unfortunate today, those jail cells are not necessarily being used for the same type of inmate. Things have changed.”

DLZ representatives were in Sullivan making a presentation on the county’s consideration of a new jail facility — due to its advanced age and overcrowding issues — at the Sullivan County Commissioners meeting on Monday.

Much of the same information was presented at the county council meeting a week earlier,.

New at the commissioners’ presentation were updated projected bed needs through the year 2040.

“We project items based on current legislation items that are in process,” Ratts explained. “Also how business is being conducted in the past and projecting that forward.”

Updated projection numbers included annual bookings, average daily population and daily high population. As a baseline, Ratts said the jail’s current occupation level approved by the Indiana Department of Correction was 56, set last year.

“You have just over 90 inmates (last Monday), so you are spending quite a bit of money sending inmates out to other counties at various locations,” Ratts said.

Projected numbers:

• Annual bookings — 2019 (892), 2030 (1,091) and 2040 (1,272)

• Average daily population — 2019 (77), 2030 (103) and 2040 (126)

• Daily high population — 2019 (102), 2030 (138) and 2040 (171)

Also measured was the average length of stay in days from 2012 to 2018. In 2012, the average was 28 days (30 for males, 22 for females), then in 2018, it was 34 days (36 for males, 26 for females).

“If it was 28 days (today), you would see that your bed numbers would go down accordingly,” Ratts noted.

Also discussed was objective classification and the 80 percent rule, recommended by the National Institute of Corrections.

“The most efficient and effective jail is one that is 80 percent full,” Ratts said. “You can separate your prey and predators. Over that level, it’s not safe for inmates or staff.”

Ratts also explained hard construction costs combined with soft costs is the actual cost to construct a site and building. Soft costs — 18 types were included in the presentation — make up about 27 to 32 percent of total project costs.

As for a recommended size of the jail, Ratts said, “We believe the 180-bed facility would be something in a realistic point of view looking forward to 2040."

A 180-bed facility would be approximately 54,000 gross square feet and cost an estimated $17,750,000. It was noted, the location of a new jail may have an impact on construction and project costs, as well as long term operational costs such as transportation. Also, the probable hard construction costs are based on a bidding period occurring in the spring of 2020.

“It’s based on other projects we’ve bid, of projects other architects have bid, similar type and size of facilities and similar types of architecture,” he continued.

Ratts cautioned officials to balance the number of beds of a new facility with what the county can afford.

“You may have dreams that say, let’s build 200 beds and we might be able to lease out some of those beds to other agencies and make just a little revenue,” he said. “That’s fine. But try to get a firm understanding of what you can afford.” 

Ratts recommended not cutting the square footage in areas such as perimeter chases or in an inmate program classroom.

“I’ll stand up for the sheriff’s office here, don’t cut the storage rooms,” he said. “Really make sure that you understand every square inch of that building and the designing and what the purpose of it is. “

Ratts stressed the process to build a new jail is time consuming, including dealing with zoning issues, needing written approval from the IDOC for the project design, bidding phase, procurement and signing of contracts.

“When all is said and done, you are at least two years before you move into the jail,” he said. “It’s not a house, it’s not a new fast food restaurant. It’s going to take 16, 17 months probably to build your jail.”

Ratts concluded with some useful advice to keep in mind for government officials.

“Whether (a new jail is) next door, whether it’s a mile away, or wherever it’s at, do your due diligence,” he advised. “We’ve been involved in projects where that’s really bogged down and just took a long time. And people get upset. 

“Have your public meetings, know why you’re doing it, how much it’s going to cost, who’s paying for it. You really need to generate the awareness. The more you can talk about it and have the factual information that you’re sharing with everyone, the easier it is to build a consensus on the overall project.”

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