Report recommends Monroe County build new jail rather than renovate

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. (IUSTV News) — Monroe County should build a new jail, rather than renovate the current jail facility, according to a jail feasibility study presented to the Monroe County Commissioners Monday.

The 187-page report was put together by the Fishers-based engineering consulting firm, RQAW.

RQAW recommended against renovating the 7th Street jail facility, which has been home to a growing number of problems in recent years. Instead, the firm suggested that the county build a new facility that could house 450-500 beds while also having space available for future expansion.

The current jail fits 258 beds, but after classification of inmates, puts the jail threshold at 206. The original jail capacity was 128 beds before transitioning to a double-bunk system in the 1990s.

According to the report, Monroe County sits at an average of 2.1 beds per 1,000 people. Using an average with six other counties: Hendricks, Porter, Johnson, Madison, Clark, and LaPorte Counties, the firm calculated an average of 3.6 beds per 1,000 people.

Hendricks County3.4 beds/1,000 people
Porter County2.6 beds/1,000 people
Johnson County3.0 beds/1,000 people
Monroe County2.1 beds/1,000 people
Madison County4.0 beds/1,000 people
Clark County4.8 beds/1,000 people
LaPorte County3.4 beds/1,000 people
Average: 3.6 beds/1,000 people

The report also found that for 11 out the last 11 years, the average daily inmate population was over the 206 bed threshold. Additionally, the average length of stay for each inmate has gone up by 20-percent since 2015. That means that inmates are staying in the jail longer, limiting the number of available beds for day-to-day use.

Monroe County Commissioner Lee Jones said the recommendation to build a new facility was expected. “Given the amount of money that we’re pouring into our current facility, it does seem like the wisest path forward would be a new facility,” Lee said.

One of the reasons that RQAW recommended a new facility rather than a renovation project, is that the current jail has no space to expand. The surrounding buildings downtown prevent outward growth, and city code prohibits vertical construction on the facility.

Monroe County Chief Deputy Sheriff Phil Parker spoke to the commissioners Monday, expressing his agreement with the report findings. “We can’t plant some magic beans and grow some space in there,” Parker said.

The renovation project would also force the county to pay at least $16-million in relocation expenses for inmates, law enforcement offices, and courtrooms while the renovation takes place.

According to the jail feasibility report, a new Monroe County Jail would cost upwards of $99-million for design, construction, and furniture expenses. Should plans call for a facility that would also house courtrooms, the prosecutors office, and probation department, the total cost could reach upwards of $150-million.

Initial plans for the proposed new Monroe County Jail

Monroe County sheriff Ruben Marté also spoke at the meeting Monday, saying that although the public might think the county would like to fill all beds, it is not necessarily the case.

“We want to treat people very humanely, and we want to try and give them every system, everything we can, so they don’t come back in the system again,” Marte said.

A potential location of the jail has yet to be decided.