ANDERSON – Local officials are seeking additional information on the creation of a regional jail serving both Madison and Henry counties.

If the project moves forward, the regional jail would be the first of its kind in the Hoosier state.

The Madison and Henry County councils recently agreed to form a committee and gather information with additional meetings to be conducted.

Both county jails are dealing with overcrowding issues, as are many jails around Indiana.

Madison County Sheriff Scott Mellinger has repeatedly stressed that the county has to start planning for a new jail. The county needs a 500-bed facility at an estimated cost of $50 million, he said.

An option being discussed is signing a contract with a private company to build, operate and maintain a jail facility, a concept opposed by Mellinger and Henry County Sheriff Ric McCorkle.

Councilman Steve Sumner is heading up the Madison County committee but doesn’t believe a regional jail makes sense for the county.

“It’s worth looking at,” Sumner said of the concept. “I’m not sure it makes financial sense for Madison County.”

Sumner noted there are many unanswered questions surrounding a regional jail.

“There would be a short-term benefit in a savings through a consolidation on infrastructure costs,” he said. “But you’re looking at a facility that will be used for 20 to 30 years.”

Sumner said both counties will be dealing with increased transportation costs, the need for a secondary county facility to house inmates on a temporary basis and the need for rehabilitation services.

“The only way it makes sense is privatization with each county paying on a per person basis,” he said. “But the two sheriffs are opposed to that.”

Anthony Emery, president of the Madison County Council, said the committee is working to come up with answers to a lot of questions.

“We’re in uncharted territory with the regional jail concept,” he said.

Emery said both state Sen. Mike Gaskill (R-Pendleton) and state Rep. Tom Saunders (R-Lewisville) agree that once the county starts going through this process it might have to go back to the General Assembly to make some adjustments.

“On paper it’s a good idea,” he said. “There are some positives to it and there are a lot more questions than answers right now. It leaves me a little skeptical right now when it comes to how we’re moving forward.”

Emery said he has spoken to several sheriffs concerning privatization of a facility.

“I’m getting negative feedback when it comes to privatizing,” he said. “I think it’s because the responsibility for the jail still falls back on the sheriff and there are liability issues.”

Emery said Mellinger and McCorkle are open to the idea, but not supportive of a regional jail or privatization.

“Henry County officials want to know if we have any interest, because they are facing a possible federal lawsuit,” he said. “I don’t want to rule it out. We’re waiting for more information from the committee.”

Kelly Gaskill, president of the Madison County Board of Commissioners, said the regional jail concept is a decision the county councils and sheriffs have to make.

“We’re open to anything,” she said. “Something has to be done. It’s more crucial for Henry County because their back is against the wall.”

Regarding the two sheriffs' opposition to a private company operating a regional jail facility, she said, “There is a lot of be considered. A regional jail may not be the only option.”

Gaskill said Henry County officials will consider a regional facility being located in Madison County.

She said what has to be considered is how many inmates are being housed in the current jails, the number of convicted Level 6 felons being housed locally and the number of available beds in the Community Corrections complex.

Madison County Prosecutor Rodney Cummings said all the judges and the prosecutor’s office in both counties should be involved in the discussions.

“Any way we can share the funding for a new jail has to be in our interest,” he said.

Cummings was not supportive of privatization.

“Historically there is a problem with privatized jails because you don’t have the level of accountability of the people operating the facility,” he said. There is no responsibility to the voters. Sheriffs understand the importance to the community.”

No future meeting has been scheduled.
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