MARK KIESLING: Porter County faces jail crisis head-on

2012-10-21T00:00:00Z 2012-12-20T21:25:33Z MARK KIESLING: Porter County faces jail crisis head-on nwitimes.com
October 21, 2012 12:00 am

There are just too many darn people in jail.

Porter County is the latest to face the fallout from the overflow, despite the fact it just built its new jail 10 years ago.

The three-pod modern structure just off Ind. 49 on Valparaiso's far south side never opened its third pod because of a shortage of staff, and is down a dozen correctional officers in its existing configuration.

Now, if you've got a bag that holds 10 pounds there is no good that is going to come of trying to shove 20 pounds worth of Shinola or whatever into it.

Either Porter County is going to have to stop shoving or it's going to have to get a bigger bag.

Reopening the third pod will entail an initial cost of $100,000 to $120,000, then almost a cool million to staff with 16 guards.

We can't keep building jails and putting people behind bars, bricks and razor wire because they were driving while suspended or had one joint in their living room.

"We are incarcerating now people who may not need to be in jail," said Porter County Sheriff Dave Lain. "We have to work more efficiently and more cost-effective.

"This has been put off too long. We are doing our best to be fiscally responsible," he said. "But we can no longer afford not having enough trained medical personnel, and the NIC (National Institute of Correction) has already said we are 12 officers down running the two pods we have open."

Lain said with the approval of the Porter County Council last week, he hopes to have a new, enlarged nursing system in place by Jan. 1. The jail has four nurses, and the new model calls for 13.

Lain said as far as the overcrowding, "the probation department has been sensitive, and there's been a vast expansion of home detention."

Unfortunately, Porter County does not have a work release program like Lake County, has which allows nonviolent offenders to go to work, then return to custody.

Why not? Because that would necessitate a new building, Lain said, and that means -- you guessed it -- money.

"It's been discussed for years," Lain said. "But there's been a conscious decision that you either have to occupy an existing building or build, and either way it has to be staffed."

The nursing system is a step in the right direction and will, I hope, keep Porter County out of the situation in which an inmate sued the Lake County in 1974 over inadequate medical attention and won at the federal level.

"I'm not gonna throw Lake County under the bus," Lain said. "It's been a nationwide problem, and now we're facing it."

At least they are facing it head-on and of their own accord.

The opinions are solely those of the writer. He can be reached at mark.kiesling@nwi.com or (219) 933-4170.

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