Jeff Co Indiana Jail

MADISON, Ind. (WDRB) — The Jefferson County, Ind., community is learning more about a big problem and how county leaders plan to fix it.

Residents got a chance to ask questions about plans to build a brand new jail at a public meeting Wednesday evening.

"It's going to be the largest project we've ever done as a county,” County Commissioner David Bramer said.

The county’s jail committee has been working on plans for a new jail for well over a year. The committee discussed the results of a jail feasibility study Wednesday and gave some basic information to residents about their plans.

"It's going to be a big project and that's something that we'd like to know more information about,” Jefferson County resident Debbie Oprenchak said.

The state deemed the county jail uncompliant in 2017 due to overcrowding, understaffing and the serious safety risks associated with those issues. The jail holds 109 inmates but currently sees anywhere from 150 to 170 a day. And that number has peaked even higher at times.

"Just last week, we hit 180, so you can imagine that issues that causes us,” said Chief Deputy John Wallace, who was previously a two-term sheriff for the county and also sits on the jail committee. Currently, where we're at now, we're landlocked. So we have nowhere to expand."

County leaders believe building a new jail is the only option. They're looking at building a facility with about 250 beds that the county could grow into.

“We're trying to do our homework now so we don't in the future have to address this again,” Wallace said.

County officials were looking at a piece of county-owned land for the project. But that plan has been scrapped because of certain land restrictions and the $3 million cost to bring utilities to the property. Officials felt that money was better spent on the actual facility.

They’re now looking for land that won’t disrupt economic growth or disturb a neighborhood. Bramer told the crowd they aren’t looking to build the new jail near subdivisions, schools or churches. Since a large piece of land will likely need to be purchased, the project price tag has also gone up.

"If we go at the largest size that we were looking at, it's going to be more than $35 million,” Bramer said.

But since an official site isn't nailed down, Bramer wants to stress that's not a final figure.

Taxes will have to be raised to come up with the money, using a 0.2 percent increase specifically earmarked for jail funding.

"We're going to have to implement an income tax to pay for it," Bramer said. "We just don't have the finances to pay for it."

The jail committee will keep looking for potential sites and plans to hold more meetings in the future.

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