With state corrections facilities running out of room, a summer study committee is looking into the possibility of housing criminals charged with Class D felonies in county jails rather than the Department of Corrections.
Because of this, the Starke County Jail Committee has been encouraged to plan for a facility with 130 beds rather than just 100 to ensure that even if the state does decide to send D-felony offenders back to the county, they won’t have to worry about overcrowding.
Paul Downing, criminal justice specialist at the engineering company DLZ, discouraged the committee from renovating and expanding the current jail, but rather to renovate the jail to make room for the prosecutor’s office, probation department, child protective services offices and more. He also recommended that the committee consider offering jail services, such as laundry agreements with other organizations and food preparation agreements. He says the new jail could include a garden area to not only keep inmates occupied, but produce food as well.
The burgeoning jail population has a number of unfortunate side effects for the county. Starke Circuit Court Judge Kim Hall has said he has been lowering bonds and releasing people on their own recognizance because he has to consider the jail population, and Sheriff Oscar Cowen has said that the public safety is in jeopardy as well because he has to discourage officers from making some arrests to keep the jail population down.
The jail committee will next meet on July 19.