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Vanderburgh Co. jail expansion could cost $50 million or more

Nearly 1,000 new beds and at least a $50 million expansion stands between Sheriff Dave Wedding and Vanderburgh County inmates. The overcrowded jail isn't getting any bigger, but the need for more space is.

County leaders and architects met Thursday morning to take steps toward solving the problem. It's clear there's still a long way to go, but Wedding is serious about building a massive expansion on the jail.

Behind the concrete walls on N. Harlan Avenue, 800 inmates bulge at the seams of cell block doors but Vanderburgh County law enforcement could be sending hundreds more.

The jail was built in 2005 with 500 beds. Discussion at Thursday’s meeting suggested between 900 to 1,200 additional beds be added on.

It’s hard for Prosecutor Nick Hermann to do his job with so little space on the north side. “There are people that should be going to jail that are not because there's not room.”

Wedding says 90 percent of people who are booked into jail are released. Only the most serious offenders are kept in cells for long periods of time.

County Commissioner Cheryl Musgrave is concerned about who is being released simply because there’s no room. “Does that mean we're less safe in our community?” she asks, “I'm very concerned about it.”

Musgrave is also looking beyond a jail expansion. She mentioned the possibility of expanding the courts building and adding more judges to be able to handle a drastic increase in inmates.

“The people that are in there have to be there, that's basically our jail population at this point,” Hermann says.

A 300-page report titled ‘Jail Needs Assessment and Feasibility Study’ was put together by RQAW consulting architects and engineers in collaboration with a host of local leaders. It was published in April and breaks down problems, concepts, costs, and possible solutions at the jail.

County officials are using that report to base their discussions, but Musgrave is asking for more numbers. “There's no question in my mind we need more jail bed space, and we needed that two years ago,” she says, “so time is of the essence.”

The jail committee will meet again June 27 to dig deeper into the report. They hope to loop state leaders into the mix to help secure funding. Everyone in the meeting room agrees, it's time to grow the jail.

“We do everything we can to not send people to jail because we don't have room,” Hermann says, “you cannot build this too big.”

 

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(This story was originally published May 31, 2018)


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