Sheriff awaiting new jail as housing expenses continue to climb

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As he looks out the window of his current office and sees the construction of the new Switzerland County jail, sheriff Nathan Hughes knows that September can’t come soon enough.

“Our housing bill for housing prisoners just for the month of December was $19,005,” the sheriff said. “That doesn’t include the cost of gasoline, wear and tear on the vehicles going back and forth to transport prisoners to and from court appearances, and the cost of the deputies and other staff to go and get those prisoners. This county is spending a lot of money. The new jail can’t be finished soon enough.”

As for the construction, Nathan Hughes says that everything seems to be going on schedule, noting that the weather has hampered the workers, but progress is still being made.

“They’ve just about got all of the sheeting on the roof, that’s always a good sign,” Nathan Hughes said. “The weather’s not really cooperated, but when these guys get the chance to work — they really work.”

As the work continues, Nathan Hughes and his staff continue to try and find places to house the prisoners that they have. With no cells or holding areas here in the county, the sheriff’s department is forced to find other counties that will house prisoners.

Along with the inconvenience of having to transport the prisoners once a site is found, there is also no long term commitment that when Switzerland County needs a cell, it will be available.

“Ripley County cut me off this week,” Nathan Hughes said. “They said that they can’t help us anymore until they get rid of some of their prisoners. It really becomes a problem for us.”
Right now the sheriff is relying on Jefferson County and also Carroll County, Kentucky for space. He said that if no space can be found, then he is forced to work with the judge so that bond can be set and the violator is allowed to go.

“It’s not a good situation for us, but it’s the reality of the situation,” Nathan Hughes said of the possibility of releasing prisoners on bond because of no jail space. “Everyone’s having the same problem that we are,” the sheriff said. “There’s just no place for prisoners anywhere. We’re not unique, it’s a national thing. Everyone is looking for places to put prisoners.”

Nathan Hughes said that Clark County, Indiana, called last week and wanted space for 10 prisoners.

“The guy said that they heard we had a new jail up here and they wanted space,” Nathan Hughes said. “I told him that our facility wasn’t even built yet. He said to let them know when it was. Everyone is having the same problem.”
Along with trying to find places for prisoners, Switzerland County is also fighting the financial struggle of having to pay counties to take violators.

Ripley County charges $45 per day to house prisoners; while Carroll County charges $40 per day, or $50 per day if the prisoner has special needs. Additional charges include the cost of healthcare if it is needed while the prisoner is in that jail, and other out of the ordinary situations that may arise.

Nathan Hughes said that Jefferson County has been trying to help Switzerland County out as much as possible, and currently charges $35 per prisoner per day.

“But they are going through a building project, too,” Nathan Hughes said. “Once their new facility is completed, I can’t see them staying at that rate. It will probably go up.”

According to the Switzerland County Auditor’s office, in 2004 Switzerland County paid $171,938.43 in housing costs to other jail facilities.

The cost continues to rise when you consider that the sheriff’s department here has had as many as 27-28 prisoners in custody at one time. At $45 per day, that’s $1,260 to hold those prisoners.

Currently there are 19 prisoners being held by the Switzerland County Sheriff’s office. That count doesn’t include “weekenders” — those people who have been sentenced to spending a certain number of weekends incarcerated because of a violation.

Those people, too, must be accounted for in a jail facility.

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When completed in September, the new Switzerland County jail will hold 50 prisoners and will also have two holding tanks — one for men and one for women — that will hold 8-10 prisoners each.

In addition to handling the current county need, that may also mean that some of the space can be rented out to other counties in need.

“Our first priority is to take care of our prisoners, but after that renting out the extra beds at a per day cost will only help the county,” Sheriff Hughes said. “When it gets open, it will be full.”

Nathan Hughes said that members of his staff are already traveling around the state to receive various types of training that deal with running a jail of this size. He said that staff members are learning different techniques and are also compiling manuals that will be used by new jailers once the new jail is open.
It is hoped that by getting some of the training finished and in place by the time September rolls around, the sheriff and his staff will be able to make a smooth transition to the new jail.

“There’s a lot of things to be coordinated,” the sheriff said. “When we open, I want our people to be trained. It’s a big responsibility to take care of inmates, and we need to be on top of that. There’s a lot to know and to learn.”
Nathan Hughes said that all new jailers must complete a one week training course at the Indiana Law Enforcement Academy in Indianapolis. This must be done within one year of starting work, so plans are being coordinated so that the jailers get the mandated training and get back on the job as quickly as possible.

“Some counties offer certified jailer schools, so we may look to see if any of those are close to here so that our people won’t have to go all the way to the academy,” the sheriff said. “It may work out that it could save us some time.”
In addition to a jailer staff, the new jail will also need a cook for meals, and the types of food and menus for meals must be approved by the state.

Medical services will also need to be available — either through a nurse on staff or through contracting services with an agency such as Switzerland County EMS or King’s Daughters’ Hospital.

Nathan Hughes said that once the jail is open he will probably go back to having both a fulltime and parttime matron on duty; and well as other support personnel that may or may not be needed.

“We’ll really be a work in progress when we open,” Nathan Hughes said. “I’ve talked with other sheriff’s in other counties that have jails and they’ve given me a lot of advice, but there’s a lot of things about Switzerland County that you just can’t compare to other places. This is going to be a big step for everybody concerned.”

The sheriff is hoping that the jail can be run by around 10 people, including the eight jailers. Add to that the eight fulltime deputies that are already employed by the sheriff’s department, as well as the sheriff himself and matron Donna Hughes — and the department staff totals approximately 20 people.
Along with that, the communications department and 911 department will be housed in the jail, adding another five or six employees in the building.

“Overall you’re looking at around 26 people,” the sheriff said.