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Sheriff, County Officials Differ On Future Of Monroe County Jail

hallway

(Joey Mendolia WFIU/WTIU)

Monroe County Sheriff Brad Swain says the county should consider replacing the 37-year-old jail soon. 

Jail deputies could walk five miles a shift while working in the jail simply because of the design.

“This is what they call a linear jail, and it's, you know, everything's laid out in line,” Swain said.

Swain, who was a deputy when the current jail opened in 1984, said the design was obsolete from day one. 

“One of the tragic things in hindsight, is that the pod system, which is the way we would like to go to, existed then.” 

Jail Cell
A cell inside the Monroe County Jail.

A pod system allows officers to monitor inmate movements from one centralized area. It’s safer and it cuts back on the amount of time a jailer would have to travel by foot to respond to a situation.

Swain said he’d prefer to see a new jail located outside downtown. 

“With room do with expansion, if you think of a hub, with spokes on a wheel, you just as you might need add spokes.” 

He said it would take fewer staff members to run a new jail and that would save the county money. The county would also save money on maintenance expenses. 

He estimates it will cost a half-million dollars to replace aging door locks on cell doors in the current facility. Maintaining the elevators, electrical, and sewer systems are also costly.

“I think the jail study put to redo this entire building, to bring it back up to snuff could be $50 million. Well, you've got a new jail,” said Swain.

Monroe county Commissioner Lee Jones thinks that number is closer to $60 million.    

“And it's not easy to find enough property in the downtown area to create what would be a modern jail,” Jones said.

Jones was part of a jail study committee that met earlier this summer, she opposes building a new jail at this time. She instead wants to focus on reducing the jail population. 

“We need to attempt what's called a warm handoff, when people leave jail, which means that they're immediately connected with services.” 

That could include medical care, food stamps, or housing. 

“We do have a program going that, basically, people in probation will interview people, usually within 24 hours of being arrested and make a determination of whether or not they really need to be held in the jail,” Jones added.

County jails started shouldering the burden of caring for inmates with mental health problems, as the state cut funding to hospitals around the state that could provide professional care. 

“And it used to be part of my job when I was a new patrol deputy that transporting a person for long-term care at Madison or Logansport,” Swain said.

The Monroe County Jail has one full-time and one part-time mental health professional on staff. The jail’s inmate population can range from 200 to 250 inmates or more at any given time.

Jail Outside
The exterior of the Monroe County Jail.

Jones estimates as many as 70 percent of the inmates in the Monroe County Jail have mental health issues. 

“The single biggest problem with this, and it's really a nationwide problem, is a lack of mental health care providers.”

Jones is hoping money from the American Rescue Plan will pay for more intervention programs to keep the jail population down. 

Swain said he’s on board with doing everything he can to keep people out of jail. 

But he adds there will always be criminals and therefore there will always be a need for a jail, and at some point, Monroe County will need a new one.

“Here, the there is good financial support to keep the building in as good shape as it I, So it's not as if this building is going to collapse in a heap, the moment we move all the inmates out, but it's just tired and worn out.” 

Swain said it's unlikely he will be around to oversee construction of a new jail, since his second term ends at the end of 2022. The sheriff is limited to two consecutive terms.

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