Chesterton Tribune

 

 

Porter County Commissioners hire DLZ to inspect third jail pod

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By JEFF SCHULTZ

Wednesday’s special meeting of the Porter County Commissioners ended with a 3-0 unanimous vote to hire DLZ Indiana to review the vacant B pod at the Porter County Jail to create a list of things needed before it can be activated.

Commissioner President John Evans, R-North, said it is the responsibility of his board to finance and prepare the physical aspects of opening the third pod while it is the responsibility of the County Council to determine the funding source for hiring the jail officers who would man that pod.

“If for some magic reason the jailers were to come on board, there needs to be a place for them to work,” Evans said. The Council has not yet approved Sheriff David Lain’s request to hire nine more jailers, but there is a fair chance it will do so before the start of 2014.

The Commissioners intend to use what funds are available from last year’s refinancing of the jail building bonds, almost $1.4 million that can be used for building improvements, to restore the B pod to a functional and secure setting, Evans said.

Sheriff David Lain said the department received estimates on what would be needed to upgrade the plumbing, which came to $23,400. The computer system would also need updating because it is 12 years old and obsolete, Lain said. Those improvements would be about $75,000, he said.

The combined price of those two things would be $100,000, Lain pointed out. It will also be necessary to replace security equipment that has been taken out of the B pod and used in pods A and C, such as video surveillance equipment.

Mike Jabo of DLZ said they will use the resources of an architect who specializes in criminal facilities and will report to the Commissioners what needs to be done to be in compliance with Indiana’s statutory code. The assessment should start by the end of this week, Jabo said, and the results ready for the jail building corporation in a month’s time.

Evans said the agreement with DLZ does not have a price yet but the engineering firm will be compensated out of the $1.4 million from the refinance bond. He said the Commissioners wanted to have a special public meeting to hire DLZ to let the public know they are “not sitting on our hands with this” and to have the facility ready when those new jailers are approved and argued the B pod should have been opened simultaneously with the A and C pods in 2002.

“For whatever reasons, that was never done. Now we find ourselves in a position where the jail is overcrowded,” Evans said. “We’re not going to open it unless we know it’s 100 percent functional and 100 percent secure.”

Construction advisement will be handled by the jail building corporation once the assessment by DLZ is complete.

Evans said he would also like to get an accurate count of current jailers and suggested the sheriff cross-train his deputies who work security at the County Courthouse so they can also serve in the jail. Lain said there is already cross-training going on and those officers help with operations in the jail on a regular basis.

As for hiring the new jailers, Lain said he understands the Council is working on a compromise to fund the salaries which he said will be about $450,000 overall.

“I’m confident that it will happen. It has to happen,” Lain said.

County Attorney Betty Knight, who received a letter from an attorney representing the American Civil Liberties Union in August saying that not using the third pod due to lack of funding was “inexcusable” and unsafe to inmates and officers, said “this is the right step to take.”

“Staffing is beside the point if the facility is not ready to go,” Knight said.

The Council voted 4-3 last week against a motion to hire the new jailers even after a director from the Indiana Department of Corrections said the county risks a federal takeover that would be more costly.

Those who voted in opposition to the measure included Council president Bob Poparad, D-At Large, and members Karen Conover, R-3rd, Sylvia Graham, D-At Large, and Dan Whitten, D-At Large, who said they are not against the hires but need some more time to determine a funding approach. Those who favored the measure included Council members Jim Biggs, R-1st, Jeremy Rivas, D-2nd, and Jim Polarek, R-4th.

Sitting in on the meeting Wednesday, Biggs said he “fully agrees” with Evans that the B pod should have been opened right from the start because the jail has been continually overcrowded.

He and Rivas said they feel the Council will need to fund the jailers with recurring county economic development income tax funds, which are in the Board of Commissioners’ budget, rather than fund them with reserve funds. That might mean diverting some of the CEDIT the Commissioners use for special projects and redirect them to fund County operations, they said.

Biggs said the Council should have a funding proposal ready at the final reading for the 2014 budgets on Oct. 22.

Posted 10/10/2013