• Bill Raines

Lawrence County Justice Study - Lawrence County Jail

By: Bill Raines

Lawrence County Zephyr

LAWRENCE COUNTY - (November 29- 2021) - The Lawrence County Justice Study was completed in July of 2021 at the request of the Lawrence County Commissioners.

The study of the existing jail and set to identify the immediate needs and future space needs and how those might be accommodated with a new facility.

This report will look at the current jail and issues surrounding the current correctional facility.

Over the last 15 years, Lawrence County's population has remained relatively constant, decreasing only slightly from 46,203 to 45,496. There is no indication that the county's population will decrease significantly in the next 20 years.

The jail population though has been increasing with a rated bed capacity of 180 beds, which 144 dedicated to males and 36 are dedicated to females.

The jail is considered full when the jail population reaches 144 inmates. During a recent Lawrence County Commissioner meeting the jail population was at 164 inmates with 127 males, 37 females, 1 Level - 6 felon, and 11 Department of Correction inmates.

This left the jail at 91 percent capacity. The population over the last several years has been consistently over the classification threshold of 142, and there were several months in 2020 when the average daily population was above the capacity.

There are several factors that indicate the jail population will continue to rise. The number of processed inmates has increased over the last several years due to drug crimes, drug related crimes and domestic abuse. These offenses have led to longer average length of stay.

The length of stay in the last eight years is increased to 47 percent.

There has also been a total of 15 level six Department of Correction inmates who have been housed in the facility over the several years. This is in part due to Indiana State legislatures passing House Bill 1006.

Female offenders have also increased over the past ten years, with only 36 dedicated beds to females. In 2000, it was rare that even 12 female beds were needed during that period of time.

The Lawrence County Jail constructed in 1990 for 88 beds with the operational capacity of 70 beds. The jail was double bunked in 1992 to increase the bed count to 168.

Correctional facilities see deterioration after 20 years due to several factors which include inmates abuse the facility, and being open 24 hours.

There are plumbing fixtures, doors and locks, HVAC equipment some of the components become obsolete and are no longer manufactured. Therefore, parts are customed made parts and are very expensive to replace.

According to the report the challenges that have been presented will be best accommodated with a new facility and cannot be remedied through additional renovations.

A proposed construction of a new facility will have a hard construction cost of $35, 063,819. The construction and Occupant Related soft cost are not included in the construction costs and could range from 25 to 35 percent of the hard construction costs.

Those soft costs are associated with financing, design services, furniture/equipment, and staffing and operational costs. These costs can add $7.3 Million to a estimated cost of $42,427,220.

In accordance with House Bill 1006 Lawrence County sent letters to each surrounding county in regard to building a regional jail. This included Brown, Jackson, Greene, Martin, Monroe, and Orange Counties and did not respond and a regional jail was not analyzed in the study.

Note the Greene County Jail was just recently renovated, and Jackson County discontinued their juvenile detention center to house adult inmates.

The surrounding counties have a net available bed count of 440-450 beds available. The data projections indicate that the jail population over the next 20 years may be high as 300. This will require inmates to be transported to other surrounding jails.

Proposals for the repurpose of the current jail once a new facility is built would be for other detention type projects like work release. Although repurposing the jail for Community Corrections can provide future expansion capabilities there will be operational challenges and maintenance issues that will need to be addressed.

In addition, there will be significant construction costs associated with a project like this due to existing construction and other upgrades required.

The location of the jail would be prime real estate for demolishing the facility and making the area ready for new development.

Note: The study is only a proposal and no decision has been made at this time.

The justice study has just been recently released to the public with the public able to look at the proposals and results of this study.

Sheriff Mike Branham has asked the commissioners to form a committee of three to look at the issue further. A similar study was conducted previously by Sheriff Sam Craig during his administration.

In our next story we will look at other factors that need to be addressed in the Lawrence County Justice system and some of the responses from our local judicial leaders who were interviewed for the study.

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