By Mike Fletcher Kokomo Tribune
---- — The overcrowding issues facing area county jails in the last couple of years have subsided this year, county officials say.
Renovations to the Howard County jail and a new jail in Miami County have helped alleviate most of the overcrowding, and a proposal to build a new jail in Tipton will address that county’s space issues.
Remedies are coming none too soon, as the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana has filed suits against several Indiana counties where jail populations exceeded designed capacities.
In Howard County, the jail housed 370 inmates including 80 women as of last Tuesday, Capt. Harold Vincent, jail commander of the Howard County jail said.
The jail was built in 1993 to house 324 inmates, including 34 women.
To house the ever-increasing number of females at the jail, jail officials earlier this year renovated an indoor recreation room into a 36-bed cell.
The existing cells where males were housed will now be used to house female inmates, Vincent said.
“We still have a lot of women, but [now] we’re able to put them in the same unit,” he said.
The renovation also allowed the jail to warehouse some IDOC inmates at a rate of $35 per day per inmate. With 20 or so IDOC inmates, the jail was collecting up to $700 a day, he said.
But an increase in the number of inmates forced the county to return the 20 inmates, all male, to IDOC, to free up more room for local offenders, Vincent said.
Sentencing offenders to probation and in-home detention through community corrections and the drug court has also helped keep the numbers down.
The drug court, which began in 2007, requires addicts to undergo rehab in three phases of treatment. If they successfully complete the program, their drug offense is dismissed. If not, they will be tried for the charge and likely go to jail or prison. Without the program, those offenders would be housed at the jail anywhere from six months to three years, depending on the charge.
“Judge Menges’ drug court has been very successful as far as rehabilitating offenders and getting them back on track,” said Vincent. “They have a good success rate.”
Vincent said it costs the jail $29.83 a day to house an inmate based on a formula he submitted to the Indiana Sheriff’s Association.
“We had a good year and didn’t go overboard on medical costs,” he said.
The renovation also eased the cost to Howard County to house female inmates in the Miami County jail, which has extra space. Howard County used to pay $35 a day per inmate to keep women at the Miami County facility.
The remodeling reduced the number of indoor recreational areas to one. There are three outdoor recreational areas remaining, which may be used for further expansion in the future, Vincent said.
“A remodel of the existing rec rooms can be another alternative, but another renovation would mean a staff increase,” Vincent said.
This past renovation did not require a staff increase, he added.
A new work release program in the works also is expected to ease overcrowding.
In September, the Howard County Community Corrections Advisory Board started to consider opening a work release center for the county at the former Kokomo Academy on South Berkley Road.
The Kokomo Academy building has been vacant for several years. After Cedarbridge Treatment Centers closed the juvenile care and detention facility, ownership reverted back to Howard County.
Ray Tetrault, director of adult community corrections, said the Indiana Department of Corrections indicated it would be willing to pay Howard County $1,000 per day for 40 beds in a work release center.
He reviewed four previous feasibility studies that looked at the needs and costs of a work release center.
The building could house up to 120 beds, 40 of which would be used for women.
The advisory board also considered the second floor of the Howard County Government Annex as a work release center location, but that option would require the Howard County Health Department to be relocated.
In the past, an expansion of the Howard County jail was mentioned as a possibility.
A study committee is expected to report to the board in December more about the number of people who could be in a work release program, staffing requirements and the cost of operating a center.
People sentenced to work release are allowed to leave the facility for job-related activities and must return to the center on a daily basis. Inmates pay a daily or weekly per diem as a part of the program.
While Howard County looks at alternatives to expansion, officials in Tipton, about 30 miles south of Kokomo, are deciding whether to build a new jail or expand the existing jail.
Discussions began two years ago when overcrowding was an issue in the 30-year-old 27-bed facility.
“We had 54 at one time in 2004 and last year we had 52 in one month,” said Jail Commander Matt Deckard.
Last year, 628 inmates were booked into the jail.
“This year we’re considerably lower with 320 so far,” he said.
As of last week, the jail held 22 inmates.
Tipton does not house any inmates from other counties and does not have any inmates housed in other county jails, Deckard said.
Now, with fewer than 20 inmates on the average day, the main issue is building a new jail to replace the 30-year-old facility.
“Overcrowding this year has not been issue,” he said.
“Most of our issues are equipment and mechanical issues,” he said. “Last year we did a study and found out in the last 10 years, we spent $263,000 in maintenance costs. It only gets worse as time goes on.”
Deckard said with rising costs, it would be more feasible to build a new jail rather than add on to the existing one.
At first, the county recommended a 100-bed facility.
But, Deckard believes that’s too big for the small city. He recommended a facility that has 60 or 70 beds.
“The last thing we want is to build it too big,” he said. “We don’t want it to sit empty.
“I’m pleased with the input from the county. It’s good we’re being as transparent as we can and let the public know what’s going on.”
Deckard said the county spent approximately $49 per inmate per day to house inmates, according to 2012 numbers.
Last year, consultants recommended construction of a new 100-bed jail facility for Tipton County. The consultants estimated the cost at between $7 million and $11 million. The consultants said it would be difficult to expand the existing jail because of its current location.
The existing jail has bed space for 27 inmates, and the average daily inmate population last year was 42, Deckard said.
North of Kokomo, the Miami County jail has no overcrowding issue after building a new jail in 2010, Jail Commander Charles McCord said.
“We have a 240-maximum and we’re sitting at 130 (inmates). We’ve got up to 150 inmates once.”
The jail has no inmates housed in different jails, but does house inmates for other counties including Wabash, Madison and Delaware at a cost of $35 per day.