EDITORIAL: Easing jail crowding is no easy task

2013-02-25T00:00:00Z EDITORIAL: Easing jail crowding is no easy task nwitimes.com
February 25, 2013 12:00 am  • 

Shrinking the cost of housing inmates is no easy task.

As Porter County continues to talk about how to ease crowding at the jail, among the ideas that has come up is to stop taking in federal inmates. But even that idea has its drawbacks.

Porter County Sheriff Dave Lain warned the county not to prematurely end the agreement to house federal inmates, saying it could be costly to do so.

The county received a $1.3 million signing bonus when it entered into the 16-year contract with the U.S. Marshals Service in 2001. Lain said the contract indicates the county could be forced to pay back that money if the county breaks the contract.

Overcrowding isn't one of the legitimate reasons spelled out in the contract for canceling the arrangement.

Porter County Board of Commissioners President John Evans said he isn't convinced the county would have to pay back that money after so much time has passed.

The federal government pays the county $56 a day, or $380,000 a year, to house the inmates. Cancel the contract, and that money is gone for sure.

The federal inmates are a factor in the Porter County Jail crowding, with about 20 at the jail at any one time. The contract allows for up to 40.

On Tuesday, the commissioners and Lain are scheduled to discuss health costs at the jail, including additional nurses, a physician, medication and mental health needs.

Jails have to provide for inmates' needs. It's worth remembering that not only do inmates have civil rights that need to be respected, but many inmates are awaiting trial and thus are not convicted criminals.

Crowding at the jail does need to be addressed, but evicting federal inmates does not seem to be a viable option.

Lain is right. Keep housing the federal inmates, at least until the end of the 16-year contract.

But keep looking at ways to ease overcrowding, including opening the jail's third pod or operating a work-release center or other possibilities. This problem won't be easy to solve, but it won't go away by ignoring it, either.

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