PRINCETON — Under the gun to respond to a summer 2017 Department of Corrections inspection that demands a plan of action for solving overcrowding and understaffing at the Gibson County Jail, county officials Tuesday allocated more money for more jailers and money to buy ground just north of the existing facility at the corner of Main and Emerson Streets in Princeton.
After voting earlier this year to fund an additional jailer position at the jail, Gibson County Council agreed unanimously to allocate $120,367 for the salaries and benefits of two additional jailers.
Gibson County Commissioner Steve Bottoms thanked the council for its action, but reminded members commissioners were asking for a total of five additional jailers to be in DOC compliance.
Council members last month made note of the lower jail census, compared to the census at the time of the inspection, and questioned whether more jailers are needed as the inmate population has increased.
DOC inspector Kenneth Whipker, a retired Bartholomew County sheriff, conducted the inspection and told council members at Tuesday's meeting that the staffing recommendation was made based on the design of the jail facility, not the inmate population. He explained the staffing analysis also takes prisoner transport and other factors into consideration.
Sheriff Tim Bottoms reported there are 96 inmates in the jail, which rated at 120 capacity, and 47 inmates in the work release center.
Whipker said there are two separate problems, understaffing and overcrowding. With a rated capacity of 120 beds, Whipker said the jail needs to be at about 80 percent capacity to avoid overcrowding. The additional beds allows corrections officers to separate inmates if needed to avoid a problem, but if there are no additional beds, there's nowhere to move them, he said.
"I think what you're doing here...that is a good start," he said of the decision to add two more jailers.
Whipker told the council, "There's just not much that can be done with this facility from a jail perspective," responding to questions about whether another floor could be added to the top of the facility.
The jail was built in 1989 with the idea that a third floor could be added, but the sheriff reported the building has settled since it was built and the logistics of moving all the prisoners out while a third floor was constructed would be practically impossible.
Whipker said he inspects about 50 jails. "Your situation is not unique," he told the council. 'About two-thirds of the jails (in Indiana) are overcrowded."
He commended county officials for looking for solutions, but noted "It has to be more than talk...I can tell you, you are doing more than some counties."
The council also approved by a 5-2 vote, with Bill McConnell and Mike Stilwell dissenting, to appropriate $170,500 from the county's cumulative building fund to acquire the building and land immediately north of the jail bordering North Main Street. County Attorney James McDonald said the anticipated closing date of the sale is April 1, contingent upon when the funds are available.
While county commissioners haven't put a specific plan in place for use of the property, there was some discussion last month regarding the price and the additional cost of demolishing the concrete block building if it isn't used. Councilman Craig Pflug's motion to appropriate the funds to buy the property specifies that county commissioners will have to find money to tear down the building, if that's what is in the future.
Buying the land makes it possible to either renovate or build a new jail or at the very least, control the land adjoining the jail property, McDonald told the council. "There's not a rush to tear down the building," he told them.
McConnell said he couldn't support the land purchase. "We all know something's going to have to be done with the jail...but we don't have a plan. Why buy it? We're not ready for it, we don't know what's going to be necessary."