Porter County sheriff again urging response to jail overcrowding

2012-05-03T14:00:00Z 2012-05-03T14:46:05Z Porter County sheriff again urging response to jail overcrowdingBy Bob Kasarda bob.kasarda@nwi.com, (219) 548-4345 nwitimes.com

VALPARAISO | Porter County Sheriff Dave Lain again is urging county officials to find a way to open the third pod at the 9-year-old county jail to relieve overcrowding.

The inmate population reached 485 last weekend at the 350-bed facility, he said in a letter dated Tuesday.

While the population has exceeded 500 in the past and was down to 459 by Tuesday morning, Lain said the situation continues to be unsafe. Only 17 of the inmates are housed for federal and/or state officials.

"We can't sustain those numbers," said Lain, who pointed out in his letter the "volumes" being spoken about crowding at the county animal shelter.

The problem is compounded in that there is no medical staff on site from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m., which leaves care during those hours up to trained jail staff, he said.

"It's a liability exposure we can ill afford," Lain said.

County Council member Karen Conover, R-3rd, said she does not see how the county can afford at this time to hire the nine additional jailers Lain said are needed to open the third pod.

"If we had it, we would have already done it," she said.

Alternatives need to be explored, such as pretrial release of nonviolent offenders and increased used of halfway houses considering the large number of inmates in trouble because of substance abuse problems, Conover said. She also wondered if low-risk inmates could be grouped together in the third pod, taking advantage of the jail's design for indirect supervision.

"Do we have to have nine jailers?" she asked.

Councilman Jeremy Rivas, D-2nd, said he believes the council could come up with the extra money needed for longer hours of medical care at the jail by finding a way at budget time later this year to cut county employee health insurance costs.

It is going to take longer to find the money to address overcrowding, he said, but planning needs to begin now.

Lain suggested the jail team up with the juvenile detention center to share the cost of medical care at both facilities.

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