Bill could help overcrowding at county jails

By Josh Sigler

A bill that is being sponsored by Indiana State Rep. Andy Zay (R-Huntington) could help overcrowding issues facing facilities like the Wabash County Jail.

The bill, House Bill 1078, passed the full senate by a vote of 46-2 last week. In a press release, Zay’s office explained that the bill would allow a court to relocate a Level 6 felony offender from a county jail to the Indiana Department of Corrections if the person is a violent offender or has two prior unrelated felony convictions.

Officials in Wabash County have long highlighted that the county needs a new jail facility.

Sheriff Ryan Baker, at the weekly County Commissioners meeting Monday, explained that the jail was housing 114 total inmates, but had to send 56 inmates to Miami County and another 13 to Elkhart County, meaning the county was responsible for 182 inmates total over the past week.

Wabash County Jail, built in 1979, has only 72 beds with a capacity for 112 inmates, is over capacity 100 percent of the time.

“We have a total of 34 Level 6 felons,” Baker said. “I’m not sure how many of them are violent offenders which would meet that criteria. But, it would definitely help. It wouldn’t solve our overcrowding issue, but it would definitely help.”

Overcrowding is not an issue in Miami County and Elkhart County, Baker explained. Those facilities have a max bed capacity, and once they meet that, they no longer accept inmates from places like Wabash County.

County Commissioner chairman Barry Eppley said that while the bill in question would be a welcome relief, it would not constitute enough numbers to change the county’s urgency for a new jail.

“The numbers would be quite low that that bill would be taking elsewhere,” Eppley said. “While we would welcome that, we don’t see that as changing the overall need to (expand) inmate housing.”

Eppley said the building of a new jail is becoming a higher priority on the county’s list all the time.

“It’s a top priority at the present time,” he said. “We are in the midst of that financial review that we talked about here recently. We anticipate learning what that might surface. In recent analysis, we’ve not seen a plan that would support the construction of a new jail. … It’s a big financial step for the community, and we’re not going to take it lightly.”

Posted on 2019 Apr 09