From Left Field
By BOB SHRALUKA
Okay, let's get it out of the way right now. Let's move right to the tough part, to the hard facts. Those cold, hard facts.
Here goes: Some day in the near future — and that may be sooner rather than later — Adams County is going to have to take a serious look at building a ... new jail!
Whew! That wasn't easy, right?
But one and one equals two, folks. No. 1 one is the almost certain passage of a new sentencing bill in the Indiana Legislature which will bring greater inmate numbers to county jails like Adams'. No. 2 one is the fact that the jail here is already at capacity most days.
The state Senate last week approved what is labeled "a major overhaul of Indiana's criminal sentencing laws aimed at sending fewer non-violent offenders to prison." The vote was 46-4, which underscores the support behind the measure that went back to the House, which previously approved a different version.
One of the big reasons the measure is being pushed by lawmakers is that studies show it will prevent the need for more state prison space for at least a decade. Old story: State saves, we pay.
He's not losing any sleep over it — yet, anyway — but Adams County Sheriff Shane Rekeweg is wondering where it all will lead.
"Right now we don't know what's going to happen," he said this week. "The sheriffs association says there is the potential for some big costs (for county jails). We're just waiting to see what they (Legislature) are going to do. It's been in the works about three years now and we're hearing it's likely to pass this time."
The situation becomes considerably stickier when your jail is full most of the time, as is the case with the one down on First St.
"Yesterday we had 60 inmates plus four on the floor. We provide them a mat to sleep on; we only have 60 beds," the sheriff explained.
"Actually, probably closer to 48 should be our capacity. We have to classify inmates; we need room to move them around. But it's so much harder to classify when it's crowded like this. And if we get a troublemaker, then there's not a lot we can do with him.
"We're doing the best we can right now and, yes, were getting by. But I am concerned about what we will do (if the legislation passes)."
The jail's work release center, or annex, has a capacity of 40 inmates, but some of the area goes to women and just one person in the women's part means no men can be shifted there.
And then there's the matter of the ever-present feds. "There's a whole bunch of regulations coming down from the federal govenment," Rekeweg said, and while we're working through them now, it's likely to get tougher in the years ahead.
Alternative sentencing programs, such as Community Corrections, home detention, etc. are being used here and have been for some time. They will be more heavily leaned upon in the future. Meanwhile, the sentencing overhaul, when it passes, not if, will likely not kick in before July of 2014 at the earliest.
Depending upon how much of a burden the lawmakers are going to drop on the county, it looks more and more each day like the only solution, eventually, is a new jail. That's certainly not a popular idea, but placing 80 or so inmates in a jail designed for 60 or less is only going to bring new federal mandates and ... yes, lawsuits.
Upon reaching the bottom line, we find the time for local officials to begin seriously looking at this issue is now. Look how long it's taken to resolve the superior court building situation. Two years of debating and discussing and that situation remains just a bit past ye ol' Square One.