HANCOCK COUNTY – A veteran member of the Hancock County Jail staff will now serve as the facility’s commander, taking the helm in the midst of a heated debate over a $55 million proposal to expand.
Keith Oliver, who has worked as a jail officer in Hancock County for nearly 13 years, was appointed this week to the leadership position within the Hancock County Sheriff’s Department that is tasked with staffing and overseeing operations at the county jail, 123 E. Main St.
He’ll be entrusted with leading a staff of 24 officers charged with the daily care and protection of the jail’s roughly 170 inmates.
Oliver replaces Andy Craig, a 27-year member of the sheriff’s department who retired in January.
Oliver served as the jail’s deputy commander under Craig’s leadership for seven years, and Craig said he groomed Oliver to handle the day-to-day operation of the facility. Oliver often accompanied Craig to statewide training sessions on best practices of jail operation, Craig said.
In addition to giving Oliver the rank of captain and making him a member of the sheriff’s department’s administration, the promotion will make his a more influential voice in the discussion surrounding the future of the county jail.
Local leaders have outlined plans to construct a $55 million criminal justice complex project that would include a jail large enough to house 440 inmates — nearly three times the size of the current facility. Debates continue over how to fund the project and how its design will impact the rehabilitation programs offered there, with one option going to voters via a question on the May primary ballot.
Oliver’s roll as the deputy jail commander meant he has always been involved in these conversations; he said he’s eager to take on a more active role in the discussion.
Having a bigger jail presents more opportunity than just housing additional inmates, Oliver said; more space will give jail staff members a chance to expand the drug treatment, educational, counseling and parenting classes they already offer and introduce new programs.
Part of the duty of a jail staff should be helping inmates better themselves so that they don’t end up behind bars again, Oliver said.
Sheriff Mike Shepherd asked a board of community stakeholders to interview those who applied for the jail commander position. He also sought input from current jail officers on what they’d like to see from a new leader.
Ultimately, it was Oliver’s more than a decade of service to the sheriff’s department that drew Shepherd’s favor. Those years of experience made Oliver the most knowledgeable applicant, he said.
Now, he’s looking forward to what insight and thoughts Oliver will offer.
Oliver, who lives in Greenfield with his wife and their two children, joined the staff at the Hancock County Jail in April 2005.
He started his career originally hoping to become a road deputy for the sheriff’s department, and he even worked as a reserve deputy for the sheriff’s department for seven years.
But it took only a few months for him to realize he enjoyed working in the jail. He liked the feeling of making an impact on some of the community’s most at-risk citizens.
He knows the top job comes with challenges, but they’re ones he welcomes, he said.
In his spare time, he coaches wrestling for his alma mater, Eastern Hancock High School.