NOBLE COUNTY, Ind. (WANE) – When Noble County built a new jail nearly 20 years ago, leaders made it four times the size of the old facility to deal with overcrowding. Now, it’s only about half-full. It can house up to 263 inmates in four different cell blocks, but its numbers the last few years haven’t come close to that.
“The last year, we’ve been in the hundreds, low hundreds, right around a hundred. The year before that, we were probably about 150 maybe for an average daily,” Noble County Sheriff Doug Harp said.
Harp said inmates average around a 26-day stay in the facility. Last July, Indiana implemented new sentencing guidelines in part to help reduce the prison population. Harp said that change paired with a revamp of community corrections led to the drop in numbers.
“There’s a lot of other programs that are going in our community that have kept people out of jail,” Harp said.
While there are a lot more empty beds, Harp said there are still people in every block.
“From a tax base, we’ve got the same amount of lights and utilities that we did before. The operating costs haven’t gone up,” Harp said.
Harp said having the extra space helps keep the peace.
“When people are overcrowded, you’re more apt to have fights in the blocks and things like that, problems between the offenders and the staff,” Harp said. “It’s much easier dealing with a hundred people than two hundred, so there are a lot of pluses.”
The Department of Corrections gives the county $35 a day per inmate.
“We had years where we generated around a million dollars a year back to county general with the housing of department of correction offenders. So, those days are gone,” Harp said.
Even though that revenue is down significantly, Harp said the jail can’t cut operational costs.
“You’ve got certain positions within the jail that you have to man 24/7. You have to have people in those critical positions. So, it doesn’t really allow you to reduce our current staffing levels at all,” Harp said.
There is a chance other counties with overcrowding could use some of the empty beds. Harp said one county has already reached out about the idea.
“That’s a possibility, so we could see our prison population or jail population go up a little bit because of that. It probably wouldn’t be substantial. We’re talking maybe 10 or 20 offenders that he’d ask about housing here,” Harp said.
Harp said there’s a chance the legislation could change again. If that happens, the jail could start getting more inmates in the next few years.