MADISON, IN (WAVE) - Over capacity and running out of space, the jail in Jefferson County, Indiana is straining to keep up with the increased demand for housing inmates.
In 2011, around 70 to 80 inmates was the norm for an inmate population. But now, that number has doubled. The sheriff and county leaders are putting together plans to build a new, bigger facility.
"It's a... it's a busy place," Sheriff John Wallace said.
"Elevator one to two," the jail commander said, walking through a series of locked doors that separate the sheriff's office from the jail in downtown Madison. These days, the jail is always full. Well over the 108 maximum inmate capacity.
"We're running anywhere from 150,160, even been as high as 170," Wallace said. They find spots for inmates to bunk wherever they can, in temporary housing, the intoxication tank and even the rec room.
"It's not easy, changing on a daily basis," Wallace said. "Coming up with bed space, we do have stacks of bunks and portable beds to keep inmates up off the floor but it's a daily problem."
With a cramped space, it makes inmates more agitated and can create problems for jail staff. Tuesday, the jail is filled with 160 inmates, more than 50 inmates over capacity. Jail staff often struggle just to find beds and space to put them all in. It's why they say they need a new jail.
A jail committee with the sheriff, commissioners and other county leaders are putting together a plan for the new jail. Sheriff Wallace said they're looking at a 200-250 inmate capacity jail but Commissioner Robert Little said it could house as many as 300 inmates.
They plan to built a modern facility, using a pod-like structure. The pods allow for easy expansions of the building if need be, but also better house inmates and allow for easier line of sight for jail staff monitoring the people inside.
The majority of the inmates inside are arrested for drugs or drug-related crimes, the sheriff said, estimating the number was 80 to even 90 percent of inmates in the jail. The opioid crisis has hit the area hard but the use of methamphetamine remains high in the county, Wallace said.
The new jail could offer rehabilitation and drug treatment options for inmates dealing with addiction, Little said.
Little said the proposed $23-million jail would be paid for through a local income tax increase.
"They had brought up a 0.2 percent, which would over a period of time fund this jail project," Little said.
"Of course, it's costly," Wallace said. "But we either pay now or we pay a lot later. And we'd rather do it right and pay now."
The location hasn't been finalized, but they're considering a 98-acre, county-owned property known as the Jefferson Proving Ground outside Madison. County leaders are considering another location closer to the area's utilities which would save money. It's a project that the county is taking its time with.
"This will probably be, as far as I know, the largest project the county has ever undertaken," Little said. "So that's one reason we want to make it right, not just for the next couple years when it happens but years down the road."
The jail committee is expected to put together a timeline for the project and finalize more decisions on the proposed facility in the coming weeks. If the project moves forward, the sheriff said it could be complete in 18 to 24 months.