Officials are moving slowly as they consider reopening an older section of the Bartholomew County Jail, with one county commissioner predicting that any changes that are made will be expensive.
The county commissioners have been “dragging their heels” to reopen the 100-bed older section of the jail, commissioner Larry Kleinhenz told the Bartholomew County Council during its Monday work session.
“It’s hard to get on-board,” Kleinhenz said. “Because as soon as we do, it’s going to be expensive.”
In recent months, reactivation of the 23-year-old unused section of jail has been frequently proposed to alleviate inmate overcrowding, as well as provide space to house an addiction treatment center for inmates.
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Reopening that section would require at least five additional employees to provide oversight for three shifts seven days a week, as well as hiring staff members to serve as rovers who physically inspect each pod every 30 minutes, Kleinhenz said.
“It’s always been personnel that has kept us from opening the old part of the jail,” Kleinhenz said.
Since the newer part of the jail is designed to allow surveillance of all inmates from one observation tower, the county has saved more than $1 million a year in personnel costs, Kleinhenz said.
The commissioners also are concerned about a little-discussed related expense that looms.
The entire jail will need a new heating and air conditioning system installed within three to five years at a cost of up to $1.5 million, the commissioners chairman said.
Kleinhenz talked about costs with the council after attending a meeting of the Bartholomew County Jail Corp. earlier in the day, as well as conferring last week with Sheriff Matt Myers, Chief Deputy Maj. Chris Lane, and jail commander Maj. John Martoccia.
Although Myers did not attend Monday’s meeting, he spoke about upcoming jail improvements during an interview last week.
The sheriff agrees that expanding the jail will be expensive.
Myers said he has been asked to look at replacing the jail’s entire audio and visual system because of outdated equipment and technical issues.
An ongoing problem of narcotics being smuggled into the jail through body cavities indicates a need for the jail to obtain body scanners, he said.
Originally, Myers was scheduled to present his complete jail plans in January, but that presentation was postponed when the county council declined to consider any new expenditures without being given specific costs in advance.
When the sheriff appeared before the council Feb. 5, Myers said he could not yet attach a dollar figure because his staff was still compiling figures and quotes.
It could be June before the sheriff is able to give county leaders the exact figures they are requesting, he said.
“The commissioners want us to look at different companies and different options, so it’s going to take a little longer than we originally thought,” Myers said.
During his conversation with the council, Kleinhenz outlined logistical problems in the new part of the jail, where nine different housing pods that hold 12 to 32 inmates per pod are located, he said.
As an example of current difficulties, the commissioner said there have been an average of about 40 female inmates a day, he said. When the large 32-bed women’s pod is filled, the jail administration is forced to dedicate another large pod simply to house the remaining eight females, he said.
“If we had some (more) smaller pods with eight or 12 inmates each, it would make it more efficient,” Kleinhenz said.
Currently, the jail only has one pod with 12 beds, and two pods with 20 beds, Martoccia said. In contrast, three pods have a 24-bed capacity, while four pods have 32 beds, the jail commander said.
One concept being considered is to remodel the current indoor recreational facilities for smaller pods, and enclosing the outdoor recreational facility on top of the jail to meet state requirements, Kleinhenz said.
Although that option will likely more than $1 million, Kleinhenz said it could potentially provide the county another 10 years before a large number of additional employees will have to be hired.
Nevertheless, the commissioner emphasized he does not yet have full confidence in this recently introduced proposal.
“This could be a totally bad idea,” Kleinhenz told the council.
But Martoccia said he hopes the concept is carefully researched and evaluated before any final conclusions are made.
In terms of creating an inmate drug-addiction treatment facility, the current problem is securing the space to house 15 to 18 inmates, as well as staff and resources, that can be kept completely separate from the rest of the jail population, Kleinhenz said.
Currently, the jail hosts a Recovery Works program for addicted inmates for a few hours each session three times a week, Myers said. But the sheriff says he would like to see the program extended to six hours a day in a separate facility.
One option that both the commissioner and the sheriff say is worth considering is simply opening up a portion of the old jail, rather than the entire unused section.
If just one section were reopened, the county might be able to get by with current staffing levels, Kleinhenz told the council.
“We have to have the capabilities of being able to use certain parts — even if it’s just the use of one pod when we start to overcrowd,” Myers said.
But neither Myers or Kleinhenz see a partial opening as a long-term answer to the county’s needs.
“We will eventually have to open the entire section up _ unless everybody finds religion and we don’t need a jail,” the commissioner said.
The following highlights are from Monday’s meeting of the Bartholomew County Jail Building Corp., as told to the Bartholomew County Council by commissioners chairman Larry Kleinhenz.
- The county will continue making bond payments of a little more than $900,000 twice a year for the next nine years.
- The heating, ventilation and air conditioning system in the jail will need to be replaced in three to five years. Costs could be as high as $1.5 million.
- The jail building corporation has about $200,000 in an account that can be used for specific improvements.
- The refinancing of the jail bonds, approved two years ago, appears to be saving the county a little more than $100,000 annually.
The Jail Building Corp. was formed more than 11 years ago after the county approved a 20-year bond issue for nearly $25 million for the jail expansion. It will continue meeting until the bonds are paid off.