EDITORIAL: Porter County needs to fund jail expansion

2013-09-01T00:00:00Z EDITORIAL: Porter County needs to fund jail expansion nwitimes.com
September 01, 2013 12:00 am  • 

Now that the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana has added its voice in the lengthy conversation over conditions at the Porter County Jail, it's time for the Porter County Council and commissioners to finally settle on a plan to ease crowding there.

The ACLU has called the jail overcrowding "inexcusable" following a July 30 tour — especially when the jail was built with a third unit that has never been opened. The third pod was built for eventual expansion.

That time came several years ago, as Sheriff David Lain has repeatedly pointed out, but the County Council has yet to provide funding for the additional jail guards necessary to staff that third unit.

In a letter to Porter County attorney Elizabeth Knight, ACLU attorney Kenneth Falk said the county's failure to address overcrowding at the jail is unconstitutional and places the county at risk for litigation.

The ACLU has been aggressive lately, filing a number of lawsuits to challenge what it believes to be unconstitutional.

But that might not be the only legal challenge Porter County could face. Falk said he notified the Indiana Department of Correction and said if the county doesn't correct the problems within six months, the DOC could take the county to court.

As sheriff, Lain also could sue the county commissioners or council if the state determines the jail standards are not being met, Falk said.

Then there's the federal government. The U.S. Department of Justice has forced Lake County to address jail conditions, and complying with that consent decree is costly.

Doing the right thing will not be cheap for Porter County, but doing so because of a lawsuit adds the cost of litigation to what must be done anyway.

The extra guards will be an ongoing cost, and the county's nest egg — the proceeds from the sale of Porter Hospital — should not be tapped for operational expenses. That means the commissioners and council must work together to find another funding source.

Lain has been making this point for years, but the commissioners and council have failed to reach an agreement. It's time to finally give Lain the respect he deserves and find a way to fund the expanded jail operations.

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