Inside the jail at the Dearborn County Law Enforcement Center.
(Lawrenceburg, Ind.) - A May groundbreaking is being eyed for the expansion of the Dearborn County Law Enforcement Center.
On Thursday, Dearborn County Council approved the recommendation forwarded to them last month by Dearborn County Commissioners for an extra $1.1 million in funding for the jail facility expansion. Funds will come from the county’s riverboat revenue fund.
The council vote was 5-1 with councilman Dan Lansing continuing his opposition to the project.
Council had originally planned to meet on the jail funding last week, however, the unexpected death of first-term councilman Jim Hughes delayed the meeting. Hughes and Lansing were vocal critics of the expansion, usually voting against funding anything to do with it.
“Jim was openly not supportive of the project, but I thought he showed great character in being a part of the jail committee,” Dearborn County Administrator Terri Randall told council as she delivered a presentation explaining why the expansion is needed.
The extra funding approved Thursday takes the cost up to $10.4 million to bring 144 new beds to the jail. Part of the project will be an unfinished shell, an enclosed portion of the building that will initially remain empty aside from some lighting and limited utilities.
The plan which council accepted leaves open the possibility to bid out a second phase of the expansion in the future. It would install up to 64 more beds in the empty shell for a total of 424 new beds compared to today’s 216 beds. An estimation of the full build-out from engineering firm RQAW put the total cost at $11.2 million.
A study of the jail population and future projections showed the need for the expansion. In 2010, the average daily jail population was 255, an increase of eight percent from 205 in 2005 according to a study from Integrus Architecture. At the same rate of growth, the average daily population is forecasted to reach 375 by 2035.
“If we’re going to address this, it would be prudent to go to 144 and bid out the 208. You can’t argue with what’s going on in the world today,” said councilwoman Liz Morris.
Even Lansing recognized the need.
“Everybody on the board agrees there are more people over there than there is space,” he said.
Council President Dennis Krause raised concern that if there were more space available that judges may be more likely to send people to jail, thus filling up the new beds faster.
“Will it fill up faster than we think? Will it last 20 years?” Lansing asked, adding that the county is using a large portion of its riverboat fund for the jail as revenues for that fund begin to shrink.
Morris said the larger capacity will mean increased public safety because more criminals will be behind bars.
“I’ve heard people in the judiciary anguish over the issue of who do you let loose so that you can put someone who is a worse offender in,” Morris said.
Krause also questioned the increased regular operating costs of a larger jail. Randall said the expansion will allow the jail to operate more efficiently.
Councilman Bryan Messmore, who sat on the jail committee made up largely of members involved in law enforcement or on the engineering or construction firms, said nobody has been able to come up with a solution better than adding bed space.
“This is a washrag which we have rang it, and rang it, and rang it until it’s dry. I don’t think we can get any more for our money,” said Messmore.
County resident and blogger Christine Mueller asked council to look at making changes in the Dearborn County judicial system.
“There is no reason why just one group (the taxpayers) should be footing the bill for this. They may not have to pay for it in money, but I do think that from the prosecutor to the sheriff to the judges themselves and maybe even the defense lawyers. Look at what they are doing that is raising the cost,” Mueller said referencing high bonds and court continuances.
Mueller implored council to make sure the new space doesn’t fill up too fast. She suggested council members review data – a suggestion Kraus used when he asked that council be supplied data showing the effectiveness of the county’s four-year-old Jail Chemical Addiction Program.