Community will vote on new $23 million jail

 DEKALB COUNTY, Ind. (WANE) – The community will decide if there will be a new jail in DeKalb County. It was just announced there will be a referendum in 2018. This comes after years of discussions among county officials

This project has been long in the works with a lot of opinions but it will ultimately be up to the community. As it stands, that decision comes with a $23 million price tag. It’s a cost that will go back to the taxpayer. Sheriff Don Lauer said he doesn’t think there’s any other choice. “I understand. I’m a tax payer as well, I don’t really want to pay for it but it needs to be done. There’s no question that a new jail needs to be built and we in the community are the ones responsible to build that.”

The biggest issue is overcrowding. Lauer said their cap is 105 and they’re constantly at 80 percent of that. He also said they can’t send inmates to other counties forever. “That’s not a long-term decision. It’s a Band Aid that could come to an end at any point.”

Some people think overcrowding shouldn’t be an issue because a lot of the inmates are in for low level crimes. They think they could be in community corrections or work release. Lauer said that’s a simplistic way to look at it. “The truth is a lot of them don’t qualify for community corrections. They can’t afford it. Their behavior is not manageable. So some people have to be in jail. There’s no way around that.”

On a daily basis employees are trying to figure out where to move an inmate when everything is full. Built in 1984, the building has reached its 30 year life expectancy for a jail. Administration also faces spatial issues. For example a 6 desk room is for 14 officers. Lauer said frankly that it’s now a liability. “The county could potentially face a lot of lawsuits. I think, even though they’re criminals, I think we owe it to house them in humane situations.”

If does pass it could be five years before they get into a new building. When asked what will be done if the people decide they don’t want the jail, Lauer said he hopes the commissioners would try to find another way to convince the public. “It has to be done. I don’t think there’s any question that it’s going to need to be done.”

The new community corrections and work release building will be done by December 2018. The vote on the jail will be in May of 2018.