Hancock County Jail fully open; inmate numbers on the rise

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Hancock County Sheriff Brad Burkhart said after talks with state and local officials the decision to fully open the county’s jail seemed logical.

HANCOCK COUNTY — After gathering more information from state and local officials as well as conversing with members from the Indiana Sheriff’s Association (ISA) following the end of the pandemic, officials with the Hancock County Jail have decided to open the facility fully.

It means county residents can expect to see more arrests instead of officers having to release some law breakers and issue summons to court like they did during the pandemic.

As of Wednesday, April 6, the county jail had 219 inmates listed at one point, compared to when the number was 155 inmates in early March.

Sheriff Brad Burkhart said he recently attended a ISA conference where he was able to dive in and talk more with other state officials to get a better feel for how they are running their jails post-COVID. From those meetings and conversations with County Prosecutor Brent Eaton, Burkhart decided it was time to start making more arrests.

“We’ve decided we’re not going to quarantine any longer,” Burkhart said. “We can’t have quarantine spaces and isolation spaces any longer with us opening things back up.”

Burkhart noted local officials were hoping to be inside the new jail at this point in time where there would be no limits on arrests or concerns of overcrowding. Those are both major issues jail officials had to deal with constantly before the pandemic hit. However, delays in the completion of the new facility and the end of the pandemic forced Burkhart to reassess intake numbers more closely and make sure they were doing what was best for the county’s jail staff and inmates.

“If we would have been able to get in the new jail two months ago, this wouldn’t have been an issue,” Burkhart said.

While Burkhart said he would have preferred to keep inmate numbers lower until the move into the new jail, he believed it was finally time to get back to pre-COVID arrest protocol.

The only thing Burkhart has put a halt on for now is officers arresting people who have a warrant in a surrounding county and with nothing pending in Hancock County, but other than that, the county jail is officially fully open.

The decision is something that pleases Greenfield Police Department Chief Brian Hartman.

“It is great to see the jail open for several reasons,” Hartman said. “Now people will know they are going to be held accountable and go to jail if needed, along with some sense of ‘normal’ coming back.”

Hartman noted his department fully supports the Sheriff in making these types of decisions because he knows there is more to determining the best move for the county than meets the eye.

“I support the Sheriff and all the decisions he needed to make to keep his people and the inmates safe during the pandemic,” Hartman said. “This was a difficult situation he was put in, and he has done his best to serve everyone involved.”

Burkhart said his department will continue to work with the prosecutor’s office and the county judges on bonds and getting people processed and through the system, but their main goal is to get people who need to be in jail back into the facility.

The decision is already producing results. Burkhart noted he sent out the new directive in mid-March when they had 165 inmates. The number ballooned to 219 earlier this week.

“In 19 days, we increased our intake by 48 inmates,” Burkhart said. “During that time, we actually had booked-in 84 new people within those 19 days.”

Burkhart believes the intake numbers will continue to rise to the upper-200s, pre-COVID-type numbers before they make the full move, including inmates, to the new jail, in early June, at the earliest.