Sheriff, Jail Commander Differ on Need For New Facility

Monroe County Sheriff Jim Kennedy and Jail Commander Bill Wilson appear at odds over whether the county needs a new jail or just a transitional facility.

Sheriff, Jail Commander Differ on Need For New Facility

Photo: Bill Shaw/WFIU-WTIU News

Two inmates at the Monroe County Jail.

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Information released in a report from Monroe County Jail Commander Bill Wilson suggests the county’s jail population is growing slowly enough that, contrary to previous belief, a new jail might not be needed for another 20 years. But while Sheriff Jim Kennedy says the commander’s numbers are good, he says the actual building might not last that long.

Installed in the county’s justice building in 1986, the jail was originally intended to hold about 124 inmates. Today it has enough beds for 278 residents-all but 30 of which Kennedy calls “secure housing beds.” Last year, the average number of inmates on a given day roughly equaled the number of beds, but got as high as 334 – which Kennedy said packed the facility to its very limits, with prisoners staying in some non-traditional places.

“The indoor rec facility which is our overflow — the only place we can put people — and I’ve seen it in here where it’s literally been head to shoulder, foot to head with mattresses,” Kennedy said.

The jail’s inmate population increases each year as the county’s overall population grows, but Kennedy said the biggest problem is repeat offenders. Kennedy estimates that all of the 250 prisoners locked up on the day of WFIU’s visit had been there at least once before — a problem Jail Commander Bill Wilson said can be alleviated by building a transitional facility.

“A residential transitional center would offer a lot of services for those inmates before they’re released so you know, hopefully with the goal being if we can better prepare them for release then it’s more likely they won’t be repeat offenders coming back into the jail,” he said.

Wilson said a transitional facility would take care of the population problem too. Past jail studies have predicted the county will soon need for a 500-bed facility, at a cost of about $46 million, but Wilson says he thinks those studies haven’t considered what he calls the county’s “unique” jail use. Wilson says increases in the jail’s average annual inmate count for the past 15 years indicate the prison will only need to add 50 or 60 more beds to handle the population predicted over the next two decades.

“As we are right now if we can continue to keep up on our maintenance and continue to keep everything operational,” Wilson said,  “Certainly if there’s no significant changes in county population growth or the social environment, then the forecast basically demonstrates that, yeah, we should be ok for about the next 20 years.”

Wilson said inmates who are lower security risks would stay in the transitional facility, freeing up beds in the jail at a much lower cost. But Kennedy seems skeptical. First, he said he’s not sure a transitional facility would really cut down on recidivism.

” You would hope so, frankly that’s a real hard thing for me to really buy into but I’d love to see it tried,” he said.

Kennedy said the bigger question is whether the existing jail building will last 20 more years — pointing out steal door handles and hinges the county has already spent thousands of dollars repairing and replacing.

“All Bill [Wilson] did was point out that the population will not exceed current potential bed space for another 10-20 years,” Kennedy said.  “He didn’t say anything about the structure itself. He just talked purely about population based upon 15 years of historical data.”

Kennedy said the average jail ages about three years for every actual year of use – making the Monroe County jail, built in the mid-1980s, nearly 70 years old.

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