Sullivan County leaders searching for solution to jail overcrowding

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Overcrowding; a problem not unique to county jails in Southern Indiana, but a problem nonetheless.

And this past winter, a problem Sullivan County saw up close.

“The jail is a 54 bed facility and we had as many as 111 inmates in the building, so that’s a 200 percent capacity, and that just makes it very difficult to work as far as moving inmates around for safekeeping and for disciplinary reasons,” said Sullivan Co. Sheriff Clark Cottom. 

The extra number of inmates isn’t the only sign of overcrowding here at the Sullivan County Jail.Several extra refridgerators were brought in for extra food storage after it was determined there wasn’t enough space.

Work spaces are also tight at the jail, and often serve as multi-purpose rooms, like the records room/nursing station/break room.

To combat the issue of overcrowding, officials looked to other county jails for help, but found that nearly all of the 30 they contacted were full. 

Eventually, inmates were transported to Parke and Posey Counties, and currently 30 Sullivan County inmates are housed in five other jails throughout Southern Indiana, a move that comes at a cost.

“To have 30 inmates in other counties, costs the county $35 per day per inmate, and annually that’s $350,000, and that’s money that the county never recoups,” said Cottom. 

So is the best solution an expansion to the current jail? Sheriff Cottom doesn’t believe so. 

“We are already landlocked, and if they were to do an addition, it would be a very small addition, it would be a temporary fix,” said Cottom. 

That leaves the option of building a new jail; a choice Cottom says he doesn’t take lightly, but believes is better than the legal action that could come against the county otherwise.

To avoid the same legal trouble of other local jails, the local government has chosen to work together and get ahead of the issue.

“Sullivan County will have a lawsuit just like they did in Vigo County, so that’s what we’re trying to do as the council and the commissioners and the sheriff to be proactive and try to get something going before a lawsuit comes effective,” said Sullivan County Council Vice President Jerry Payne. 

Because times have changed, and not in favor of overcrowding.

“Sheriffs used to get paid by the head, now they get sued by the head,” said Cottom. 

Cottom says estimates show that by the year 2040, the Sullivan County Jail could house up to 175 inmates, another figure that points toward the necessity of a long-term solution for the county.

Local officials are currently visiting jails throughout the state to see how their facilities are run and get ideas to bring back to the community.

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