GUEST COMMENTARY: Porter County Jail needs must be addressed

2013-10-22T00:00:00Z GUEST COMMENTARY: Porter County Jail needs must be addressedBy Jim Biggs nwitimes.com
October 22, 2013 12:00 am  • 

The Porter County Jail was designed to house a total of 454 inmates, which according to the 2013 county government statistical report makes our county jail the seventh largest in the state. However, this same report advises that there are 22 counties which employ more jail staff to watch over their inmate population.

The Porter County Jail has on average 470 inmates incarcerated within a correctional facility designed to hold a maximum of 454.

Now consider that 109 of those beds are not available because we have never invested the funds necessary to open the third jail pod. Consequently, we are housing on average 470 inmates in a facility that has only 345 available beds, and as if that weren’t bad enough we are managing it all with an inadequate number of jail staff.

Our jail has not been understaffed and overcrowded these past 10 years because of a lack of available funds – not at all. These problems have been allowed to linger simply because county officials have not considered it important enough to address long before it got to this extent of substandard compliance with state and federal regulations.

State officials have not warned county officials they need to build a new parks building, animal shelter or sports complex. In spite of that, some county officials appear to be much more willing to invest their time and the public’s money toward these endeavors than they are toward a county jail which they have known for years is in serious need of their attention.

As many residents remember, our county passed a county option income tax in 2003 on the proposition we did not have the necessary incoming revenue to responsibly deliver core services to its citizens.

In addition, in 2007 county officials sold what was once a county-owned hospital for more than $160 million on the belief we no longer needed to be in the hospital business and that the sale proceeds could be a “game changer” if invested properly.

Flash forward to 2013, and our county uses the vast majority of the income taxes it collects on special projects. We have done nothing with the hospital sale proceeds but place it in a bank to collect simple interest.

I do believe our parks department is in need of a new building. Our animal shelter is undeniably inadequate in every sense of the word. In addition, certainly we should be looking into economic development projects which have the potential of growing our tax base and creating real jobs.

Nevertheless, none of these projects has attached to it the exorbitant liability of our county jail.

Porter County Councilman Jim Biggs, a Republican, represents the 1st District. The opinions are the writer's.

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