A new jail in Vigo County is effectively on hold after critics raised questions about its projected costs.
In the meantime, residents are paying hundreds of thousands of dollars to house inmates at other jails.
The current county jail is facing lawsuits because of overcrowding.
Vigo County Sheriff Greg Ewing says overcrowding has been an issue since the original jail was constructed.
“The jail was built with 80, I think it was 85 beds,” Ewing says. “And our sheriff at the time was saying, ‘Well, I’ve got over 100 in our own jail, how does that make sense?’
He says while the number changes all the time, an average of between 40 and 50 inmates are housed outside the county. Over time, he says the cost adds up.
“Well we have spent, you know, $370,000 in just housing our inmates in other counties, year to date,” Ewing says.
It costs about $35 a day to house an inmate at an outside facility, but the rate could jump to $55 if lawmakers approve a bill that will be up for their consideration this session.
Ewing says he tries to keep the inmates close, using jails in Parke, Sullivan or Knox counties. But he says it’s getting difficult to find jails with enough space, because overcrowding is impacting county jails across the state. He says he had to transport some inmates as far as Noble County for around 40 days earlier this year.
With increased rates, Ewing predicts residents could pay as much as $600,000 to transport and house inmates next year.
Ewing says there are a few issues that contribute to the overcrowding, including Indiana’s ongoing opioid crisis and a recent state mandate that requires county jails to house level six felons.
He says treatment programs could help reduce the number of inmates in the jail. But he says a new facility would mean taxpayers’ money is going back into Vigo County, instead of being spent somewhere else. He compares sending the inmates out of the county to renting an apartment.
“You can rent an apartment for twenty years, and on that twenty years and one day, you’ll have a shoebox full of receipts,” Ewing says. “Or you can buy a house. And at the end of twenty years, you own a house.”
The county council will not discuss the proposal for a new jail until early next year.