Commissioners move forward on opening third pod of Porter County jail
BY AMY LAVALLEY Post-Tribune correspondent October 9, 2013 3:06PM
The Porter County Sheriff's Department and Jail opened in 2002 and has been overcrowded almost since the beginning. | Post-Tribune File Photo
Updated: November 11, 2013 12:18PM
VALPARAISO — The Porter County Board of Commissioners is moving ahead with the first step to open the third pod of the county jail to deal with persistent overcrowding in the 11-year-old facility.
“There have been a number of proposals over the years to get the third pod open. It probably should have been done at the inception of the project,” Commissioners President John Evans, R-North, said during a Wednesday special meeting with Sheriff David Lain.
Commissioners on Wednesday committed revenue from the refinancing of a jail bond to ready the physical building to accept prisoners. Commissioners have $1.4 million they can access for improvements at the jail.
The architectural and engineering firm DLZ, which has experience with criminal justice facilities, will begin an evaluation of the jail’s third pod Friday, with a report back in a month on what’s needed to get it up and running.
Plumbing work, estimated at $23,000, and upgrading the jail’s outdated computer system, for less than $75,000, are already on Lain’s list of things to be addressed.
The third pod has 109 beds; the two pods open now have a capacity for 345 inmates.
The jail opened in 2002, and Lain has said it’s been at or over capacity since then, but the bond money is for the building, not the staff.
“Everyone knows the responsibility for funding the jailers is the council’s, so we’re not even going to address that,” Evans said.
During last week’s county budget hearings, Lain asked the county council to include funding for nine additional jailers, at a cost of $450,000, in his budget to open the third pod.
With a 4-3 vote, council members denied the request for the time being. While all of the council members agreed on the need for the staffing, the majority was concerned about where the funding would come from, and the need to look at ways to reduce the jail population.
Councilmen Jeremy Rivas, D-2nd District, and Jim Biggs, R-1st District, who voted in favor of the additional jailers and attended Wednesday’s commissioners’ meeting, believe the council will find a way to fund the jailers by Oct. 22, the final budget reading.
The commissioners took care of business on their end of things, Biggs said, adding he believed the council would do the same.
“I don’t think we can afford to take it past the 22nd,” he said, adding there has been discussion with commissioners about using county economic development income tax revenue for the additional jailers. Commissioners already have committed $1.2 million from those county development tax funds for jail medical expenses. “I think the answer is there.”
Lain is confident that the council and the commissioners will work out a compromise. “It has to happen.”
Ken Falk, legal director for the Indiana chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, had toured the jail in July after being contacted by inmates about conditions at the jail.
In August, Falk sent a letter to county attorney Elizabeth Knight noting 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, as well as injury to staff and offenders.
“I think this is the right step to take, independent of staffing,” Knight said. “Staffing is beside the point if the facility is not ready to go.”