INDIANAPOLIS – Something has to give.
At least 40 jails in Indiana are over capacity, and a building boom is on the horizon. Dozens of counties are studying, actively pursuing or developing efforts to add beds or are in the middle of construction. And taxpayers are on the hook for it all.
“It's a big pain in the butt for us what these lawmakers did, making us hold these offenders,” Huntington County Sheriff Terry Stoffel said. “Indiana is so great at saying 'we are so flush with money' and just passed it on to us.”
It all started with a state effort to revamp the criminal code and help curb the rising prison population. Part of the plan was that the lowest-level felons – Level 6 – would no longer be sent to the Indiana Department of Correction. Instead, they would stay in local jails with hopes that many would do home detention or work release.
The state pays $35 a day to jails for each inmate, which covers food and staffing but isn't enough to add beds.
As a result, Indiana jails are busting at the seams – with 47 percent of all jail inmates being Level 6 felons, according to recent state survey. There are other contributing factors, but there is no denying the code changes are having the largest impact.
In Huntington, for instance, the jail has 98 beds but 156 inmates. Of those, 57 are Level 6 felons.
Allen County has a jail capacity of 740 and is usually 40 to 50 inmates over, although sometimes it creeps up to 100.
Stoffel is in talks with Huntington County and judicial system officials about adding on to the jail.
“You still have to have humane conditions for people to live in or we become as bad as some of the people we have,” he said.