VALPARAISO | Porter County Councilman Dan Whitten, D-at large, said while no one doubts the need to open the third pod at the county jail to relieve overcrowding, he and a slim majority of his peers were not ready to give the green light Thursday night.
The council voted 4-3 against a request by Porter County Sheriff Dave Lain for the $450,000 needed to hire nine new jailers.
"We just can't fund something that doesn't fix the problem," Whitten said.
Whitten said the solution to the overcrowding problem lies not just with hiring new jailers, but also in coming up with other alternatives such as the proposed pretrial release of qualified inmates.
Councilwoman Sylvia Graham, D-at large, said she was not ready to support the sheriff's request because she does not know how the council will pay for the additional jailers.
"I can't vote for something if I don't know where our budget stands," she said.
Council President Bob Poparad, D-at large, who also opposed the request, suggested taking it up again at the end of the current budgeting period.
Lain told the group after the vote that efforts to reduce the inmate population with pretrial release will not address the overcrowding problem.
He said the jail is so overcrowded that there would not be enough room for more inmates even if the third pod is opened.
Lain said the situation at the jail is dire enough that staff must wait until shift change time, when more employees are on site, before proceeding with cases of forced medication.
He also held up a photo of a sign posted by inmates proclaiming, "Will throw urine" as an example of the threats faced by the inadequate number of jailers.
Kenneth Whipker, executive director for sheriff and county jail operations at the Indiana Department of Correction, told the council that the nine new jailers sought by Lain is a "bare bones" request.
He said as the state's chief jail inspector, he would not approve the opening of the third pod without the minimum number of staff sought by Lain. He said his approval is not needed, but said the council is on notice if overcrowding results in an incident.
Overcrowding at the jail is among several big-ticket items facing council members as they prepare a budget for 2014.