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Hancock County Officials Say They’ll Build Jail Despite Failed Referendum

The Hancock County Jail is overcrowded, so some inmates have to sleep in common areas of cells (Steve Burns, WFIU/WTIU News).

Hancock County officials say they still plan to build a new jail, despite voters rejecting a proposal on Tuesday’s ballot to fund the project.

County officials hoped to use a combination of increased property and income taxes to fund a $55 million safety and security project, which includes building a new, bigger jail.

But about 53 percent of voters rejected a referendum, which would have allowed the county to increase property taxes by up to 14 cents for every $100 of assessed value.

District 1 Commissioner John Jessup says the county received legislative approval to increase income taxes by up to 0.2 percent to help fund the project, which he expects will now happen. But, money from the tax increase is unlikely to raise the full amount needed for construction.

In addition to a new jail, the proposal calls for repurposing the current facility and making changes to the courthouse.

Jessup says there’s a sense of urgency because of consistent overcrowding at the jail. And, the project is only getting more expensive.

“Before we kicked the can [for] ten years, this was a $35 million project, now it’s a $55 million project,” he says. “If you want to kick it down the road three or four more years, it’s a $70 million project.”

The jail is supposed to hold 126 inmates, but often operates with more than 200 people in custody.

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