COLUMBIA CITY — The Whitley County Jail has had near-capacity populations for some time — long enough that Whitley County’s Commissioners are looking for new options for inmates.
Years ago, the county repurposed an old hotel into its Community Corrections facility, which allows nonviolent offenders to participate in work release and other programs outside the jail setting while serving their sentences. That facility, however, is now full as well, and the county is running out of options.
The Commissioners called on DLZ Corporation’s Scott Carnegie to come up with options to alleviate the overcrowding issues, and Carnegie presented to the Commissioners at last week’s regular meeting.
Carnegie said he touts Whitley County’s hotel setup to other communities he is a project manager for.
“It has served the county well, you should be very proud of those efforts,” Carnegie said. “When we’re out giving presentations, we talk about what a good idea that was — now your needs have exceeded that.”
Carnegie presented the Commissioners with several options, ranging from purchasing a new building for the administration to free up space in the current building, to constructing an entire new facility for technical offenders.
“About a 250-bed facility is what we would suggest,” Carnegie said.
The existing capacity is about 98, but there are typically about 50 more individuals at the jail who could qualify for Community Corrections — that number is expected to continue to increase as arrests and court cases are on the rise.
The county could purchase a 4,000-square-foot administration building from a local company, such as Whitley Manufacturing, for about $535,000. The building would be placed in the parking lot at the current facility. This would take about nine months to complete.
The cost to build a whole new facility could be about $8.4-9 million, Carnegie said, and would take more than a year to finish.
The new facility would not have to meet state jail standards because it would be a technical violator facility — which would save a significant amount of money.
“They wouldn’t be leaving. It would be secure, but not to jail standards,” said Paula Worden, leader of Community Corrections.
Since the implementation of Indiana House Bill 1006, which changes sentencing guidelines so more inmates stay at the local level rather than state prisons, Whitley County’s jail has been increasingly overcrowded.
“Whitley County is not unlike many other counties across the state,” Carnegie said. “A lot of counties fall into that classification.”
Many agencies are not able to arrest all criminal offenders due to lack of space in jails. The Whitley County Jail is rated for 100 inmates. There has consistently been 110-130 inmates at the jail.
“What we consider full capacity is 80 percent,” Carnegie said. “Not everyone in the jail gets along. You need to be able to segregate people — for the safety of the inmates and the officers.”
Financial decisions will ultimately be made by the County Council.