Hancock County Sheriff’s Office to offer jail tours to shed light on overcrowding issues

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HANCOCK COUNTY, Ind. - The Hancock County Sheriff's Office will soon start offering tours of the jail to showcase overcrowding issues and draw support for a new criminal justice center.

Residents are invited to sign up for the tours to gain a better understanding of the problems before voting on a property tax hike to pay for a new jail.

Inside the Hancock County Jail, the impact of the opioid epidemic is clear. Staff says most of the inmates ended up behind bars due to the influence of drugs.

"Currently, we are out of compliance by Department of Corrections standards in this facility for staffing and population space," said Brad Burkhart, chief deputy.

As more people become addicted, more of then end up in the jail. The facility has capacity for 157 inmates. As of Friday afternoon, there were 198 inmates.

"It's pretty bad with people sleeping on the floor all the time," said inmate Derek Kent.

A walk through a cell block reveals the makeshift beds on the floor to accommodate additional people. One cell block, made to hold 16 inmates, is filled with 26.

Burkhart said they would ideally keep inmates separated by classification and create a recovery wing for those seeking drug treatment. But, space restraints make that difficult.

"We want to be able to provide space necessary for inmates," Burkhart said. "Recovery blocks, mental health blocks, places we can put the injured, the sick. We just don’t have the space for that."

"They’re making efforts," said inmate James Baker, who said he committed a crime while addicted to opiates. "They just don’t have the capacity right now to accommodate the needs because there’s such an overwhelming number of people that have this addiction."

So, county leaders are considering building a new criminal justice complex large enough for 440 beds, community corrections and the probation department.

In May, residents will be asked to vote on a referendum that would increase the property tax rate by a maximum of $0.1436 per $100 of assessed value to pay for the new jail project.

"We needed to figure out how to get the word out," Burkhart said.

To do so, they're opening up the jail to tours.

"What they’ll understand when they come through is what we’ve been dealing with for quite some time," Burkhart said.

He said he believes a larger space will allow them to offer better services that will help keep people from ending up back in jail after they're released.

To sign up for a tour, you must be over 18 years old. If you're interested, call the Sheriff's Office administration office at 317-477-1147.

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