Inmates moved out during repair

GREENFIELD — Plumbing repairs have closed a portion of the Hancock County Jail, dropping capacity at the already cramped facility until at least September and forcing department officials to relocate 30 inmates to make room.

The $400,000 plumbing project closed the local jail’s largest cell block while crews work to replace the building’s piping, which dates back to the 1980s. The project was the largest expense outlined in a nearly $2 million loan local officials took out in 2015 to cover maintenance at county buildings.

About 30 inmates were moved to the Wayne County Jail in Richmond and will remain there until the repairs are complete, said Hancock County Sheriff’s Capt. Andy Craig, the jail commander.

The local jail has room for 157 inmates but frequently houses as many as 170 at a time.

Relocating a group of inmates has not brought any relief to the jail’s space issues, Craig said. Instead, closing one of the facility’s blocks means jail officers lost access to almost 30 beds and are having to find space for new arrestees within less square footage, he said.

Some of those inmates transferred to Wayne County — where they are being held free of charge to Hancock County taxpayers — have criminal cases still pending in Hancock County, and jail officers are making weekly trips back and forth to the Richmond facility to bring inmates to scheduled court appearances, Craig said.

These headaches are ones county leaders knew the jail’s officers would have to weather while the repairs were being made, said Brad Armstrong, president of the Hancock County Board of Commissioners. Still, there was no avoiding the repairs any longer, he said.

“This was the safest way of doing it,” Armstrong said. “Some of the work could be done in the basement of the jail without moving anyone, but eventually (workers) had to go into the cell block.”

The pipes are nearly 30 years old. The people locked inside the facility since it was built in 1988 have done some damage, flushing everything imaginable down the toilets for entertainment, said Maj. Brad Burkhart, the sheriff’s chief deputy. The pipes have gotten worn over the years and are prone leaks and clogs, he said.

Repairs at the jail ate up more than half of the money county officials borrowed last year. An estimated $1.4 million is being spent at the jail to repair the roof, plumbing, lighting, fire sprinklers and windows, among other things.

The plumbing project will close cell blocks one at a time, and jail officers plan to rotate inmates around the facility until the work is complete, Burkhart said.

Closing the largest cell block first and transferring the inmates housed there was done purposefully so the blocks that house fewer people would be easily accommodated in other areas of the jail building in the coming months, Burkhart said.

County officials expect the repairs will carry into the fall, if not longer.

There is no way of knowing what issues the lack of space will cause in that time, Craig said. Any influx in arrests could send capacity to the brink, leaving jail officers scrambling to find places for people in even less space.

“It’s the same problem, and it’s still a burden,” he said.

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Caitlin VanOverberghe is a reporter at the Greenfield Daily Reporter. She can be reached at 317-477-3237 or cvanoverberghe@greenfieldreporter.com.