PRINCETON — A Gibson County jail task force agrees the county needs to build a new jail, but is divided over the best option to pursue, according to a Gibson County Jail Needs Assessment and Master Plan presented by DLR Group Tuesday.
One option proposes a new 85,028 square-feet 288-bed facility on seven to 10 acres in or near Princeton at an estimated cost of $38.9 million. The other option proposes a new 66,848 square-feet 200-bed facility at an estimated cost of $31.2 million, with the possibility of adding on to the facility in five to 10 years.
It will be up to Gibson County Commissioners to decide on the avenue they'll take and up to the Gibson County Council to fund the project.
"It's been a tough one," Board of Commissioners President Steve Bottoms said of the study. "I know we wanted to come out with a single recommendation...We're at the very beginning of this..."
The jail study was ordered by Gibson County Commissioners after the county jail was cited by the Indiana Department of Correction for non-compliance in two annual inspections and the county was named a defendant in a class-action federal lawsuit filed by the ACLU on behalf of jail inmates in early 2019. According to the federal court case records of the lawsuit, a pre-trial settlement conference is scheduled in January, and the case is preliminarily scheduled to be tried in September 2020.
DLR Group partner Mark Van Allen presented the 64-page study to commissioners Tuesday morning. Van Allen reported the county jail, designed in 1988, does not comply with Indiana jail standards, nor the U.S. Department of Justice's standards for accessible design and it does not comply with the Prison Rape Elimination Act of 2003.
He reported that the jail census consistently exceeds its rated capacity, and told commissioners that in order to have a facility that will meet the county's needs for the next 20 years, the committee determined a facility with about 288 beds would be required.
The committee looked at several options, including using property the county owns on the north side of the existing jail to expand. Van Allen said that option would probably require a seven-story structure within the property footprint at a cost of about $41.2 million. A similar expansion to property just south of the jail would be about five stories, and cost the same, he projected.
The panel also considered building a new jail on seven to 10 acres in or near Princeton, but excluding the community corrections operations from the new build. That project would cost about $37.6 million.
Committee members include Judges Jeffrey Meade and Robert Krieg, Prosecutor Michael Cochren, Gibson County Councilmen Jay Riley, Derek McGraw and Jeremy Overton, Gibson County Sheriff Tim Bottoms, Gibson County Jail Commander Daryl Chamberlain, Gibson County Commissioner Steve Bottoms, Gibson County Economic Development Corporation board member Jeff Clark, Gibson County Attorney Jim McDonald.
Members assigned scores to criteria including cost, flexibility-expansion, size, staffing efficiency, life-span of the facility, adaptability and utility costs, and the two project options tying for top scores were the 288-bed new build on new ground and the 200-bed new build on new ground.
Bottoms said the county hasn't acquired any ground for a new build, since an option hasn't been chosen, but the Gibson County Economic Development Corporation is looking at sites with sewer and water access that could fit the county's needs.
Van Allen said the 200-bed option could be a good solution, meeting current needs, but will require adding to the facility in five to ten years and will cost more in the long-term.
He noted the council members on the committee expressed concern that the 288-bed option exceeds the county's ability to pay for it.
The council approved a .2% local option income tax dedicated to Gibson County Jail improvements and operation in October. The jail tax will be collected beginning in January.
Added to the. 7% local option income tax the county collects now, the new tax raises the total LOIT tax rate to .9%, which remains lower than 84 of Indiana’s 92 counties.
The new .2% tax is dedicated solely to capital improvements and operation of the Gibson County Jail, raising an estimated $1.5 million per year, at a cost of about $96 more per year to the median $51,000 annual wage earner in Gibson County.
The jail tax can be imposed for up to 22 years, generating up to $33 million over that time-span. It can also be rescinded at any time.
During Tuesday's review of the jail study, Van Allen told a citizen who asked whether other options that would divert people from jail into other programs was explored that there are limited resources on a per-county basis, but there are some studies for regional treatment facilities to address problems for people in crisis of addiction, mental health or homelessness.