LaPorte County Jail floor reopened

2012-11-18T18:30:00Z 2012-11-18T21:25:03Z LaPorte County Jail floor reopenedStan Maddux Times Correspondent nwitimes.com
November 18, 2012 6:30 pm  • 

LAPORTE | A partial shutdown of the LaPorte County Jail is over now that a heated squabble about money has been settled.

Sheriff Mike Mollenhauer said the fifth floor reopened Wednesday.

He said the process was slowed to accommodate daily inmate visitation hours.

"It just makes it more difficult with the visitation knowing where they are at," Mollenhauer said.

Mollenhauer closed the fifth floor in late September after the LaPorte County Council rejected his request for $70,000 to fund additional overtime for jail officers.

With no money left in the overtime account, Mollenhauer laid off three jail employees and moved the female inmates to the third and fourth floors to cut down on the area that had to be manned by his reduced staff.

The female inmates were kept separate from the male inmates, but closing the upper level meant there were 62 fewer beds in a jail consistently at or above the 368-inmate capacity and already understaffed before the layoffs.

A disruption among several inmates restless about the overcrowding flared up a few days later, and some of the inmates had to be Tasered to help regain control of the jail.

"The more people you have in jail the more they have to be watched. I'm glad to have the fifth floor open again," Mollenhauer said.

The situation grew from the County Council becoming upset over the sheriff purchasing a new vehicle for himself.

He was asked not to, but Mollenhauer used money out of one of his discretionary accounts to buy the vehicle.

In refusing to allocate more tax dollars to the sheriff, the council instructed him to use more of his discretionary funds to pay more overtime to his jail officers.

Mollenhauer responded that he was not allowed to use discretionary accounts for wages.

He and the council were later informed by the state that those dollars can be used for employee compensation as long as both the sheriff and council approve.

Mollenhauer said he took $30,000 out of a discretionary account funded with revenues from the Indiana Department of Correction to pay overtime costs for the rest of the year.

LaPorte County Council President Matt Bernacchi said an ugly situation could have been avoided with better communication, but the key now is to stop pointing fingers and move forward.

"I'm tired of it. The elections are over. It's about what's right for the county," Bernacchi said.

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