East Central Indiana could soon make history as the home of the first regional detention center in the state.

Sheriffs and county leaders from all over are watching Henry and Madison County to see how those two governments turn talks into an idea into reality.

Elected officials from the two counties formally agreed Thursday night to start digging into the details of what the first-of-its-kind collaborative facility would look like and how it would run.

Both Henry County and Madison County jails are overcrowded. One solution might be to build a new facility that could house people from both counties while they await trail or serve out sentences for their crimes.

A contingent from Madison County, including council members, commissioners and Sheriff Scott Mellinger, made a trip to New Castle Thursday evening to sit down with their local counterparts and learn more about the idea.

State Representative Tom Saunders (R-Lewisville) and State Senator Mike Gaskill (R-Pendleton) facilitated the joint meeting of the officials at the Henry County REMC community room.

Saunders authored and fought for the law that allows counties to even consider building a detention center that crosses county jurisdictional lines.

“In my mind, it’s all about trying to save our constituents money,” Saunders said.

Saunders explained the law requires both county councils and county sheriffs to agree on a regional jail concept. The respective county commissioners would then have to agree to the legal contracts.

Gaskill represents Madison County in the Statehouse and his wife, Kelly, is a Madison County Commissioner.

Senator Gaskill said it was important to get everyone in the same room to hear the same information before moving forward any further on discussions.

“We got you to the table,” Saunders said. “It’s yours now.”

Henry County Council member Chad Malicoat made a motion, seconded by Kenon Gray, to move forward with Madison County and gather more information. The Henry County Council approved the motion unanimously.

The Madison County Council then made and approved a similar motion.

“This might be the thing to do. And if it’s done right, I think it could be,” said Henry County Council member Mike Thalls.

Sheriffs Ric McCorkle (Henry County) and Scott Mellinger (Madison County) both agreed to continue working together and with the fiscal bodies to pursue a regional jail.

“The only problem I’ve got is now I’ve got a second council to deal with,” McCorkle said, partially joking.

“I think it can be done right. I’m not sure I trust that it will be done right. That’s the bottom line,” Mellinger said.

McCorkle voiced concerns about who would be responsible for what at a regional facility and who would have the ultimate last word.

Under the new law, a regional jail would have its own governing board or commission, with representatives from the partner communities.

Like McCorkle, Sheriff Mellinger wants to know which county would be responsible for lawsuits, medical costs and ongoing maintenance from a shared facility.

“Somebody has to have final authority,” Mellinger said. “It can be an issue and it can cause future problems.”

McCorkle also wants to make sure a regional detention facility doesn’t take local authority away from the office of sheriff.

“(There are) a lot of questions. And I know they can’t be answered tonight,” McCorkle said told the assembled government officials. “I appreciate each and everyone of you being here. It says that you hear us, you know what we’re up against.”

Now that the Henry County and Madison County governments have agreed to work together on a solution, a similar joint meeting may soon be scheduled to take place in Madison County.
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