Inmate intake to remain the same despite COVID restrictions being lifted

Pictured: Inmates at the Hancock County Jail on Tuesday, March 20, 2018. Overcrowding had become a major issue within the county jail before the pandemic, prompting the construction of a new jail. Daily Reporter file photo

HANCOCK COUNTY — The state COVID health emergency may be officially over, but that doesn’t mean arrests-intake numbers at the county jail will increase to pre-pandemic statistics anytime soon.

Officials with the Hancock County Sheriff’s Department, who operate the county jail, say now is not the time to go back and arrest every person officers encounter for misdemeanor or non-person crimes because it would create overcrowding issues just as officials are getting things in order to move to the new jail.

Sheriff Brad Burkhart and his staff are gearing up for the move to the county’s new jail in late April or early May and want to make sure they don’t get into an overcrowding issue at the current jail like before the pandemic hit.

“We have not updated any arrest-intake policies,” Capt. Robert Harris, the public information officer for the Sheriff Department said. “The current jail policy is unlikely to change until the new jail is open.”
Officials with the jail altered the arrest policy when the pandemic hit, allowing officers to write court summonses for less serious crimes, keeping inmate numbers lower than in the past.

Robert Harris

Officials with the Greenfield Police Department said their officers have gotten used to the arrest protocol put in place due to the pandemic and have made adjustments without sacrificing community safety.

“Our officers have continued to make arrests through the pandemic and amid continuing restrictions at the jail,” GPD Deputy Chief Chuck McMichael said. “While we aren’t taking many people to the jail as custodial arrests, we are still making arrests by issuing summonses into court for a large array of criminal offenses.”

While the jail still has restrictions in place that limit the offenses they will house inmates for, they will always take people that have committed crimes against another person such as domestic violence related offenses, invasion of privacy, battery and operating while intoxicated (DUI).

“Our officers remove dangerous drugs from our community streets nearly every day and will not stop because of jail restrictions,” McMichael said.

While officials at the jail are still mindful of possible COVID issues, the jail is running smoothly, and that’s how officials want to keep things until they have more capacity in the newer, much larger facility.

“The current jail is at functional capacity — we are limiting the number of inmates to avoid an overcrowding situation,” Harris said.

Officials will however accept people who may be an exception such as someone who is a danger to themselves or others, or a repeat offender.

As of Sunday, the jail listed 155 inmates with a bed capacity of 157. While there is an additional 60 inmate beds in Community Corrections for a total of 217 beds, not all the beds in Community Corrections can be filled, officials said.

A renovation of Community Corrections helped relieve some of the overcrowding at the main jail during the pandemic, as those infected with COVID were put in special, isolated cells in the main jail. Regulations, however, state that functional jail capacity is supposed to be at 80 percent capacity, a number county officials don’t want to go above unless it is absolutely necessary.

“This is a standard set for jails that ensures there is room for classification and keep-a-parts,” Harris said.

In other words, Harris noted while their full capacity for the old jail and Community Corrections together would be 217 beds and equate to 174 inmates — max at 80 percent capacity — they do not count the beds in Community Corrections for official numbers. Due to classification issues, the layout of the Community Corrections building and classifying within genders, jail officials cannot fill Community Corrections as full as the regular jail, Harris said, noting the extra 60 beds can’t be included when considering total jail capacity.

“So a facility with 157 beds should actually have no more than 125 to 126 inmates at any one time,” Harris said.

The County Jail had an additional 30 inmates earlier this week, but the space at Community Corrections gives flexibility to the staff to have room to separate inmates who fight and to make sure violent inmates are not celled with a first-time DUI suspect. Additionally, they have to keep some beds available for when a county judge might order someone to jail directly from court.

“So, right now we have a little room for cushion,” Harris said.

Jail officials noted they have enough jail staff now and are in the process of hiring more and training recent hires.

The new jail is expected to have an estimated 440 active beds, plus there is room for more cell blocks to be added as the county grows. However, if arrests-intake policies change, even a new jail with more than twice the current jail capacity can fill up in a hurry, Harris said.