GREENFIELD — Jail staff are working to make more room at the Hancock County Community Corrections as they brace for an increase in inmates sentenced to the facility under a new state law.
Community corrections, which houses primarily nonviolent offenders who participate in a work-release program, is undergoing a redesign of its interior to accommodate more inmates. The facility is expected to house more inmates in the coming months because of a law requiring lower-level offenders to serve their time locally rather than at state prisons.
Community corrections expects to see much of the trickle-down effect from the Hancock County Jail next door, which officials said already is overcrowded. On Monday, 184 people were booked into the facility meant to house 158, said sheriff’s Capt. Andy Craig, the department’s jail commander.
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Community corrections currently houses 100 inmates. The redesign cost about $50,000 and will make space for at least 16 more male inmates, said Pat Powers, facility director. Jail officials admitted that’s not a huge number, but said any relief will go a long way to help. The change is likely the first in a series of adjustments the county will have to make to address overpopulation concerns, he said.
The Indiana General Assembly made changes to the state’s criminal code starting in 2014 that altered felony classifications and the sentences associated with each offense. As of Jan. 1, the law sends people convicted of misdemeanors and Level 6 felonies — the lowest level — to local jails, not state prisons.
The law also applies to anyone whose sentence is a year or less.
Fitting more inmates into community corrections wasn’t easy, as state standards prohibit squeezing too many inmates into a small space, Powers said. The standards require 15 square feet per person, he said.
To conserve space, Powers recently purchased new smaller wardrobes, which inmates use to hold their clothing. The adjustment frees up enough space to add two bunk beds to each dormitory. He also acquired new lockers and tables for the day rooms to accommodate the new inmates.
Jail overcrowding has long been a concern among county officials, and the new state law has invigorated the conversation about how to help, Comm- issioner Brad Armstrong said.
The commissioners have discussed setting aside money this year for a professional study of the jail, which would outline a plan for updating the facility, Armstrong said. The last study was completed in 2010 and was rendered outdated by the state’s new criminal code, he said.
Any upgrades to the facility likely would be paid for by the county’s taxpayers, Armstrong said. To date, many of the directives handed down by the state in regard to county jails have been unfunded mandates, he said.
The sheriff’s department welcomed the suggestion to redesign community corrections when Powers approached the commissioners with the plan, said Maj. Brad Burkhart, the sheriff’s chief deputy.
Unlike their counterparts at the jail, the offenders housed at community corrections are free to come and go from the facility. Many work as a way to transition back into society but return to the building after their shifts for monitoring. It’s rare to have every inmate at community corrections in the building at the same time, so Powers said he will not need to hire more staffers to keep an eye on the additional inmates.
This is the second time in recent years that community corrections has adjusted to accommodate overflow at the jail, Powers said. In 2008, the facility added eight beds. Around the same time, the jail was reconfigured to add a second female block, he said.