With each passing day, it’s becoming more obvious to Henry County Sheriff Ric McCorkle that the jail overcrowding issue won’t wait for a proposed joint effort to build a new structure with Madison County.

Thursday night, Henry County Council members agreed.

“Our original intent would be to wait until 2024 when the bond came up for the justice center and to use those funds,” County Council President Susan Huhn said. “There is increasing urgency. We may not be able to wait that long to decrease our current jail population. We’re becoming increasingly aware that a short-term solution is going to be required before a long-term solution is in place.”

McCorkle told the council as of Thursday, the 1980 facility continues to bulge with inmates. He reported 135 inmates in a facility originally built to house 76 and later modified to hold 110.

“We’ve kicked this can down the road for several years,” McCorkle said. “We’re going to hear from the federal judge soon.”

And now, the American Civil Liberties Union is involved.

“We’ve heard from our attorneys on more than one occasion, be paying attention to what happened in Vigo County,” McCorkle said. “Look at where Vigo County is.”

A federal judge ruled just last week that Vigo County must pay the $16,000 in attorney fees for a plaintiff in the jail overcrowding lawsuit there. Federal Courts have officially declared that the conditions at the Vigo County Jail violated inmates Eighth and 14th Amendment rights.

Temporary help from other counties probably won’t be available, because many are struggling with the same issue. McCorkle said he knew of 41 among the 92 Indiana counties dealing with jail overcrowding.

“We’re going to have to find a temporary solution and a long-term solution,” McCorkle told the council. “We are very overcrowded.”

That short-term solution may be construction of temporary “pods” that could possibly be used later for drug rehabilitation purposes.

“Kenon (Gray), Ed Tarantino and myself also did a tour of pods in Greensburg,” Huhn said. “For them it is a temporary solution because they are in the process of building a permanent structure.

“Any money we would put into a temporary solution we would want to be reusable,” Huhn continued, “so we’re not looking to throw away county money but if we set up a temporary pod, it could potentially be used for a rehabilitation facility in the future.”

Huhn said officials have also explored the possibility of using the currently vacant “secure” side of the former Henry County Youth Center to help relieve jail overcrowding.

“Kenon, Chad (Malicoat) and myself spoke to the CEO of the YOC about possibility using the secure detention side of the former Henry County Youth Center,” Huhn said.

But the non-secure side of that building is currently home to Tru Harbor, a private secure residential treatment program devoted to providing comprehensive treatment and services to commercially sexually exploited children and sex trafficking survivors.

“I just heard back from the CEO today reiterating that there are strict guidelines about housing together juveniles and adult offenders,” Huhn said. “They need a sight and sound barrier with absolutely no threat to the juveniles.”

Huhn said officials may still look to see if there is any possibility of using that secure detention side and maintaining that sight/sound barrier, but said options would “certainly be limited” and the county would need to proceed with caution.

“They are kind, their operation was impressive and they are willing to be good partners with us if there is any opportunity to use that building, but we’re not sure that there is,” Huhn said.

“Tru Harbor is an amazing program for some very needy youth,” Malicoat said. “My understanding is its the only program of its kind in the entire state that helps these young ladies who have been victims of sex trafficking. It’s definitely God’s work out there.”

Regardless of action to come, more money will be needed. Huhn said there’s been discussion about the council instituting a .2 percent jail tax – 80 percent of which would be used for a capital building project at some time while 20 percent would be used for operational expenses.

In the meantime, another meeting with Madison County officials to discuss the possible joint facility, scheduled for late this month, has been pushed back to Sept. 6.

Huhn said council members as well as other county officials realize time is of the essence.

“Right now we’re trying to consider every option,” Huhn said. “We’re becoming increasingly aware that a short-term solution is going to be required before the long-term solution is in place.”
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