Solution for jail crowding sought

HANCOCK COUNTY — An influx of inmates at the Hancock County Jail could lead the county to build a new facility.

A change in state law that started Jan. 1 sends offenders sentenced to serve time for misdemeanors and Level 6 felonies — the lowest classification — to local jails as opposed to state prisons. The new standard also applies to anyone whose sentence is a year or less.

Since the procedure changed, population at the county jail has swelled significantly. On Thursday, 191 inmates were booked into the jail, which is designed to accommodate 158, said Lt. Keith Oliver, the jail’s deputy commander who helps oversee operations at the facility.

That increase adds stress for jail guards, who have to keep watch over a higher number of inmates than usual, Oliver said.

To decide what remedies might provide a solution for the crowded facility, the Hancock County Commissioners recently hired a construction consulting firm to conduct a study analyzing how large of an increase to expect.

The study, which is being completed by RQAW Corp., an Indianapolis-based company, will be exhaustive, measuring regional crime trends, court records and population data, said Roger Stephens, client services manager for the firm.

It’s expected to cost the county about $8,000 and will take about four months to complete. During that time, individuals from RQAW will meet with local officials, including the commissioners, sheriff and representatives from the jail and prosecutor’s office, to determine the needs of all departments and offer solutions for county officials to consider.

That data will give the firm a picture of what type of offenders the county is seeing the most of and what actions could be made to accommodate the growth.

Commissioner Brad Armstrong said a likely outcome is that the county will have to consider building a new facility. The current jail, 123 E. Main St., Greenfield, opened in April 1988.

County officials won’t know how soon that might happen until the study is complete, Armstrong said.

If the data shows there are inmates in the jail who might be eligible for work-release programs, which is administered through Hancock County Community Corrections, a separate facility attached to the jail that houses about 116 primarily nonviolent offenders, the county might choose to focus on that building instead, Armstrong said.

RQAW completed a similar analysis of the county jail in 2010, but the data from that report is now outdated, Armstrong said. The company will use that study as a framework for the updated version, he said.

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Daniel Morgan is a reporter at the Greenfield Daily Reporter. He can be reached at (317) 477-3228 or