For years now, Porter County Sheriff Dave Lain has pleaded for enough jailers to open the third wing, or pod, of the Porter County Jail to ease overcrowding. The Porter County Council has consistently turned a deaf ear to his pleas.
The County Council rejected a $450,000 request for new jailers Thursday.
Councilman Dan Whitten said, "We can't just fund something that doesn't fix the problem" of overcrowding.
Opening the third pod, with the nine new jailers Lain requested -- a "bare bones" number -- would adequately house the existing number of prisoners, not additional ones.
That would solve the immediate crowding problem, but not the problem Whitten was referring to -- a growing number of inmates.
In addition to the past rate of jail population growth the county has seen, sentencing reform approved by the Indiana General Assembly this year -- and up for refinement next year -- will send more people to county jails for shorter sentences. Porter County, as with every other county, must anticipate this growth.
But as much as Whitten and others would like to focus on programs to reduce the jail population, the county cannot continue to refuse to staff that third pod.
Overcrowding can make inmates harder to control and can make disease easier to spread.
Ignoring the jail crowding problem will sooner or later result in a civil rights lawsuit that will force the county's hand. It would be far better for the county to act on its own before then.
Keep in mind the Porter County Jail has the seventh highest county jail inmate population in the state, yet the jail ranks 22nd for staffing.
Look at pretrial diversion and other programs to reduce the jail population, as Whitten suggests, but that would slow or stop the growth in the jail population, not reduce it.
The Porter County commissioners appear to be poised to release money for improvements necessary to get that third pod in shape for use as more than a spare parts warehouse for the rest of the jail.
Now the County Council must include funding for additional guards in next year's budget. Get it done before a lawsuit forces that decision.