VANDERBURGH COUNTY, Ind. (WEHT) – Vanderburgh County Sheriff Dave Wedding says the county’s jail is in serious trouble and he is fed up trying to plead with lawmakers to allocate funds for expansion.
An inmate overcrowding problem has been apparent for years. The sheriff has been pushing for a jail expansion for over six years. Another problem accelerating the growing jail population is House Bill 1006, signed into law by then Indiana Gov. Mike Pence.
The bill stated that felons convicted of level 6 felonies no longer will be handled the Indiana Department of Corrections. This placed the burden of dealing with low-level felons in the hands of Indiana’s 92 counties.
The sheriff says mental health and substance abuse are contributing factors and that’s why he’s pushing to expand the county jail and add a 12 to 16 bed mental health ward.
“Earlier in the year we had a juvenile female in my custody, she was violent and no one would take her so she was brought to the Vanderburgh Co. Jail basically for safekeeping,” Sheriff Wedding said. “She was yelling, screaming the whole time she was in our cells and people yelled at her and we had no way to segregate her from everyone else because the jail isn’t built that way.”
The jail which opened in 2006 currently only has 550 bed capacity but on average it’s holding over 700 inmates a day. Since July 2011, the inmate population has never been below capacity.
In 2015, the average daily number of inmates at the Vanderburgh County Jail was 576. By 2017 that number had climbed to 688. Most recent data compiled in 2019 showed the daily average population at the jail totaled 806 inmates.
“We are not built to house mentally ill people efficiently,” Sheriff Wedding says. “If it’s a family member I’m talking to, I feel very sorry for them knowing they are in a very ill equipped facility when suffering from a mental disease.”
The sheriff says he has reached out to dozens of federal, state, county and city legislators over the past six years, but nothing has come of it.
“I have come to a point to say I’m just going to kick back and keep my feet on the desk and let it go because how many times do you have to reach out for assistance and your voice is not heard or taken seriously,” Sheriff Wedding said. “You see us building aquatics centers, greenway’s, YMCA’s and no one questions that expenditure, and they are millions of dollars, when I ask for money to protect the community from criminals it’s like I’m saying the wrong words.”
The sheriff says he will tour the Davidson County Jail in Nashville Friday to get ideas on to how there mental health units operates.