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Porter County will search for money to open rest of jail

Updated: October 21, 2013 6:26PM



VALPARAISO — The reason the third pod of the Porter County Jail wasn’t opened along with the rest of the facility 11 years ago is the reason it isn’t open today.

Money.

The Porter County Council is expected to grapple Tuesday with finding $450,000 to hire nine additional officers to staff the jail’s third pod, as it holds its final reading on the 2014 budget.

While the council supports hiring those officers, they split on doing so at a budget hearing earlier this month, citing concerns about where the money would come from and the need to reduce the jail population through community corrections and other options.

The Board of Commissioners gave the go-ahead to determine what needs to be done to get the unused portion of the building ready for prisoners, using funds from a refinanced jail bond. Sheriff David Lain has said it would take eight or nine weeks to train new officers, once funds are available to hire them.

“That’s the critical issue, because we can bring up the building, but it’s always been about the hiring,” Lain said.

The third pod has 109 beds, and the two pods open now have an official capacity of 345 prisoners, though Lain has said the inmate population far exceeds that.

A representative from the Indiana chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union toured the jail this summer and sent the county attorney a letter that not using the third pod because of a lack of funding was inexcusable, and that the facility’s overcrowding opens the county to liability claims.

Officials with the architect and engineering firm DLZ, which has experience with criminal justice facilities, spent five hours touring the jail’s third pod on Oct. 11.

They are expected to report to the commissioners in the coming weeks, but Lain told commissioners earlier this month plumbing work and a jail computer upgrade together would cost about $99,000.

Sheriff’s Capt. Ronald Taylor said that during their tour of the jail, representatives from DLZ took note and pictures of anything that might be missing or problematic, including burned-out lights, cell door locks, and plumbing parts. For several years now, when something was needed for one of the jail’s two open pods, jail officials raided the closed one for parts.

“Everything else looks like we’re ready to go, except for the funding issue. That’s the elephant in the room,” he said.

That elephant has been in the room since before the jail opened.

David Reynolds, elected as county sheriff in 1998 and 2002, recently announced he is running for the post on the Democratic ticket again. He said the funding wasn’t available when the new jail opened in 2002 to hire officers for the third pod.

“At the time, what they are saying now is what they were saying then. They didn’t have the money,” he said, adding he pursued a grant to house federal prisoners for the funds to pay for 11 officers to get the new jail open. The county eventually took over paying the jailers.

He considered 12-hour shifts for the officers to try to staff the third pod, a suggestion that’s come up at council meetings, but he still needed more people.

“It’s not anybody’s fault if they don’t have the resources,” he said. “If they work together, they will solve it.”



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