ANDERSON — Madison County officials are facing a deadline from the Indiana Department of Correction to develop a plan to deal with jail overcrowding.
Sheriff Scott Mellinger said Wednesday the population at the jail is 305 in a facility built in 1982 to house 207 inmates.
He said a jail inspection was done by the state in 2017 and another is scheduled for this month.
“The state requires a plan to deal with the overcrowding at the jail,” Mellinger said. He said the plan right now is to continue and wait for recommendations from a federal government group.
Ashley Hopper, Madison County attorney, said county officials including the commissioners, council, prosecutor, sheriff and judges have been meeting for several months.
“This is a result of the jail inspection,” she said. “We have to develop a plan of action that addresses the issue.”
Hopper said there is a deadline, but it has been extended by the state.
“Progress is being made,” she said. “It is a process that will take some time. This can’t happen overnight.”
Hopper said the plan will recommend changes to the local criminal justice process.
She said the county reached out to the Indiana Office of Court Services about implementation of new state guidelines for the release of inmates awaiting trial.
Hopper said the National Institute of Corrections will be providing the county with technical support.
“They will provide training and an analysis of the jail and court system and make recommendations on the pretrial process,” she said.
Commissioner John Richwine said the county started working on the overcrowding problem at the first of the year and there were some immediate results.
“The population has started to increase,” he said. “Right now everyone is on board to make some changes.”
Richwine said county officials are looking at fixing some of the problems on a short-term basis.
He said it would take a minimum of five years to construct a new jail and the goal is to delay that option for as long as possible.
“The Community Justice Center is not at 100 percent capacity all the time, so there is the ability to move some people into that facility,” Richwine said.
He said officials hope the recommendation from the National Institute of Corrections will provide some improvements in the process.
“The female population is significantly higher than in the past,” Richwine said. “If the short-term solution doesn’t resolve the problem, we could always add a pod to community corrections to house 50 women.”
Mellinger said of the 305 prisoners, only 12 were inmates being housed on Level 6 felony convictions. Beginning in 2014 the state required counties to house inmates convicted of a Level 6 felony instead of sending them to the Department of Correction.
“That still leaves us 295 inmates awaiting trial,” Mellinger said. “All the surrounding counties are full.”
He said counties in Ohio and Kentucky have sent out feelers to Indiana sheriffs about housing inmates out of state.
Mellinger said the per diem rate would be $45 or $50 but that won’t solve the problem facing Madison County.
“We’re looking at short-term and long-term solutions,” he said. “We’re struggling.
“For the short term we’re looking for alternative housing for low-level and non-violent offenders,” Mellinger said. “There are so many people in these programs right now I’m not sure they could handle additional people.”
The long-term solution is the construction of a new jail, at an estimated cost of $50 million, or additional bed space in another facility.
Mellinger said a federal government team is coming to Madison County this month to look at the entire criminal justice system from arrest through going to trial.
“They will make recommendations to make our process more effective,” he said.