HANCOCK COUNTY — Some relief from overcrowding could be coming to the Hancock County Jail.
After officials debated for months the potential liability issues tied to moving inmates to out-of-county facilities with open beds, the Hancock County Board of Commissioners this week gave jail officials permission to transfer inmates to other county jails.
County attorney Ray Richardson confirmed the county’s insurance policy covers any legal settlements arising from lawsuits involving Hancock County inmates, regardless of where they are housed — a question that previously brought plans to transfer inmates to a Daviess County facility 130 miles away to a halt.
Richardson had feared the county’s insurance might not cover inmates not housed locally and wanted the two sheriff’s departments to pen an agreement that would formally transfer liability to Daviess County.
Meanwhile, jail officials worried Hancock County would miss out on the available space in Daviess County if they waited for government boards and lawyers to come to an agreement.
Now, jail officials are prepared to move forward with transfers, citing an immediate need to free up space. On Tuesday, 190 inmates were being held in the Hancock County Jail, which is designed to house 157, said Maj. Brad Burkhart, the sheriff’s chief deputy.
The inmates tapped as potential transfers to Daviess County are low-level offenders sentenced to serve jail time — criminals whom judges are no longer allowed to send to prison because of a change in state law.
Burkhart told the commissioners he was unsure the Daviess County facility still has space and planned to check with officials there but noted other county jails across the state have open beds. Jail officials will reach out to other facilities to see where space is available, he said.
On Tuesday, the Daviess County Security Center was housing 166 inmates, according to jail records. It has 260 beds available.
Hancock County jail officials began discussions in May about transferring inmates, starting with 10, to Daviess County. The Hancock County Council created a fund to transfer money the county receives from the state for inmates over to Daviess County to cover the cost of housing offenders there.
The plan has been on hold since mid-June. Meanwhile, the jail remains overcrowded, and transferring inmates is just the start to finding a long-term solution, officials said.
“I think it’s something we badly need as an option,” said commissioner Brad Armstrong. “We either reduce crime so we’re not so overcrowded, or we build a new facility to house more prisoners.”
Consultants who studied the jail’s population earlier this year recommended last month the county build a $25 million new facility. Officials plan to create a local committee to study the issue and consider funding options should the county decide to build.