Sep. 10—Minor problems have delayed the transfer of inmates into the new Vigo County Jail.
While the county originally hoped it would move inmates into the new facility in July, it will likely be the end of this month or early October before those inmates are in the new jail, said Vigo County Sheriff John Plasse.
Minor building issues have delayed that move. The first was a cooling problem within the sheriff’s department offices in the new building.
“It was shutting down and it was not being regulated and cooling constant, but that has been addressed,” Plasse said.
But other issues remain, the sheriff said.
“We are still fixing things that are not going right. We have water valves that turn on but won’t shut off,” Plasse said, which can cause flooding. “These are the shower valves in the cells,” he said.
“When we go through the building to make sure everything is working, there are still things that are not working,” the sheriff said.
One problem had been fire alarms “that won’t shut off. We will reset fire alarms, but they will come back on another day later. We have been working with the contractors to fix that and make it right,” the sheriff said.
Vigo County Commissioner Chris Switzer said the fire alarm issue has been resolved, but it had been delayed for parts.
“In the smoke detection system, some parts came from Malaysia and took us a while to get them. We have them now and they are all installed,” Switzer said. “It would not have stopped inmates from moving in, but we wanted to make sure it was functioning.
“All three commissioners want everything to be worked out before inmates get in there,” Switzer said. “We have done dry runs, with doors locking and unlocking, checking systems and working in the kitchen. There has been minor things. … The jail is substantially done.”
Other issues included placing cameras in areas not initially considered, but have since been determined necessary.
“Unfortunately, it is just not quite ready yet,” the sheriff said of the new jail off West Honey Creek Drive.
The county’s progress on a new jail is still being monitored by a federal judge as it seeks to resolve a class-action lawsuit for overcrowding.
And the potential for overcrowding remains a concern for Ken Falk, attorney for the ACLU of Indiana. In an Aug. 16 court filing, Falk said when the jail rises above 80% of its capacity, it is not able to property classify inmates.
The means the new jail, Falk wrote, will be “functionally overcrowded when it has more than 396 prisoners, (or) 80% of the 495 available beds.”
Additionally, Falk said a current plan to prevent overcrowding at the new jail will entail the county having to commit to paying $511,00 to $638,000 annually to house 40 to 50 people in out-of-county beds.
Falk, in his filing, suggested county judges, the prosecutor, public defender and chief probation officer work with the court to determine if any other measures can be “taken to positively affect the number of persons incarcerated” at the jail.
“The concerns that we have had all along we still have,” Falk told the Tribune-Star. “The existing jail is grossly overcrowded and the prisoners are not receiving recreation, and the court has held that the conditions there are unconstitutional. The fact that there are delays in getting prisoners to the new facility is a matter of concern, and I am sure it is a concern to the sheriff.
“Obviously, I am concerned the new jail will be overcrowded, potentially as soon as it opens or soon after,” Falk said. “That means the focus has to be on whether there are ways of avoiding putting people in jail in the first place or getting them out as quickly as possible.
“I am an outsider and I have no say in the criminal justice system in Vigo County,” Falk said. “I was not consulted, nor could I have provided any information to how large a jail should be, but assuming that thought went into how large (the new) jail should be, then thought has to go into making sure that number is not immediately exceeded and that is a function of everyone in the (criminal justice) system,” he said.
“It is not a function of the sheriff, of course, but a function of everyone else. I am hoping, whether it is done through the court in this case or on their own, that those sort of discussions are taking place to positively affect the population of the jail and reduce the number of people being placed there,” Falk said.
The federal court has set a telephone conference next week for an update on the new jail.
Reporter Howard Greninger can be reached 812-231-4204 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter@TribStarHoward.