Commissioner candidates consider jail options


HANCOCK COUNTY — While local officials mull ways to decrease the burgeoning population at the Hancock County Jail, the two candidates running for the District 1 commissioner seat say building a new jail isn’t the right solution at this moment.

Democrat Brandon Perry and Republican John Jessup agree the growing jail population will likely be the most pressing issue they’ll face if elected Nov. 8.

And both men said that, despite their party differences, alternative solutions need to be studied before county officials decide to build a new jail estimated to cost $25 million.

Perry said county officials first need to meet with residents and law enforcement publicly to ask how they feel about footing the bill for a new jail and if they have other solutions they’d like county leaders to explore.

Jessup said he’d encourage the sheriff to continue looking for jail facilities that have open beds and are willing to house Hancock County inmates.

For months, officials at the county jail have been dealing with cramped quarters. A change in state law has resulted in more inmates serving sentences in local facilities, and local resources, including space, are tapped.

On any given day, the 157-bed facility is full, oftentimes with more inmates than it’s designed to hold.

Earlier this year, the Hancock County Board of Commissioners hired a company to study potential solutions for either expanding the facility or building a new one. The results of that study said the best solution would be constructing a new facility large enough to house 212 inmates.

But Jessup and Perry said that might not be necessary, both offering other solutions county leaders should explore.

Jessup said county officials need to find ways to empower the local sheriff to make decisions that will free up space in his facility, like the one to send inmates to Daviess County in southern Indiana.

For months, officials debated the potential liability issues tied to moving inmates to out-of-county facilities with open beds and whether a formal agreement between Daviess and Hancock counties was necessary.

Jessup said he would have liked to find a way around the agreement sooner, and in the future, find ways to allow the sheriff to make necessary decisions in his facility.

“There’s a lot of red tape involved with that,” Jessup said. “We really need to find a way around it. … He has a job to do.”

Perry said he’d like to first look at other ways to hold people who have committed crimes responsible before seeking to build a new facility, especially those inmates who are considered nonviolent.

Perhaps assigning citations, community service or fines instead of jail time for nonviolent offenders would free up some space, he said.

He’d also like to see county officials consider mandatory treatment programs for anger management or drug and alcohol abuse. That would help treat some of the problems that result in some people winding up in jail again, he said.

“If we utilize those … more often for nonviolent and first-time offenders than we can reduce the overcrowding in the jail,” Perry said. “Those options should be explored before we build a new jail.”

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