HAMILTON COUNTY, Ind. – When Hamilton County Sheriff Mark Bowen’s staff took a head count at his overcrowded jail this morning, they found 340 inmates in a complex designed with 296 beds.
If not for a repurposed juvenile center that’s now housing female inmates, some offenders would be sleeping on the floor instead of the beds vacated by the women.
That’s why Bowen was pleased to preside over the groundbreaking ceremonies for a $13.5 million 120 bed jail addition adjacent to the current facility in Noblesville.
“It’s laid out so we can have better observation of the pods inside the cellblock itself. We’ll have enhanced video surveillance. We will be able to categorize people with like issues so we can work closer on them with dealing with those issues whether it’s mental health, addiction issues or things of that nature.”
A quarter of all the inmates inside the Hamilton County Jail are struggling with mental illness issues and most have some sort of underlying substance abuse problem, according to county officials.
“It’s a major problem right now. I know people, good families, really really good families, whose kids have gotten involved in the opioid situation and they don’t know what to do, it’s so hard to get off of,” said County Commissioner Steve Dillinger. “We need to be setting up programs that we can be treating these people and trying to get them back to being productive citizens again and we intend to be doing that.”
The initial phase of the addition build out will include 11 cell pods with 84 prefabricated steel cells for two to four inmates.
Sheriff Bowen said the pods will serve to group together offenders faced with similar criminal charges or incarceration issues.
“We’ll have pods where we can house people of like-minded issues and focus our attention on them in small group environments, small settings, where we can work with them and work with our mental health folks and addiction folks to stay in touch with them.
“It’s not always the best place but in some circumstances it is a safe place for them to be and the family knows they’re in a safe environment and they’re being treated.”
Bowen said as Hamilton County grows, so do its public safety and criminal justice needs.
“Typically half the inmates in our jail have addresses that are outside of Hamilton County which obviously presents a problem. Hamilton County can be seen as land of opportunity for certain individuals, and certainly we work very closely with our law enforcement folks to make sure that we’re addressing those issues and concerns, but we’re left to deal with the aftermath of those crimes and those perpetrators and they’re here in our jail.”
Hamilton County previously announced an expansion to its criminal justice complex in downtown Noblesville, and Bowen is hoping elected county leaders will approve another expansion of the jail addition to add 136 more beds.
“This is just being proactive. We’re not behind the eight ball yet but we could be easily if we didn’t get on top of it,” said Dillinger. “We obviously can afford this very easily. We’re getting ahead of the game which Hamilton County, very honestly, has tried to do with our road systems and everything else that we do.”
Bowen said the new facility will require 16-20 more deputies at a cost of $750,000 a year.
The jail addition is scheduled for opening in the spring of 2019.