TOP STORY OF THE DAY, brought to you free by WICU: Proactive commissioners eyeing expansion of justice center
Clay County Commissioners are taking a proactive stance regarding the local jail.
Although not many members of the community attended a public hearing on the topic (Monday, May 24 at 10:30 a.m.), President Marty Heffner said expanding the jail facility at the Clay County Justice Center has been a topic on their radar for a while.
“This isn’t the first time we have met regarding this topic,” said Heffner as commissioners Bryan Allender, and Paul Sinders shook their heads in agreement. “We have been in this process well over a year, pretty close to 18 months. It’s been a fact-finding, number-crunching mission to keep our jail from becoming a financial liability to the county.”
The Clay County Justice Center, completed in 2006, was designed more extensively than needed at that time, with a maximum capacity of 176-beds.
“The average population of inmates back in 2006 was 89. In 2019, that average population had exploded to 184,” said Heffner about the increase of 95% inmates in 13 years. “If you carry that forward - that same rate of increase - we will be looking at 279 inmates by 2032. It definitely is something we need to look at because there is no way this facility could withstand that.”
The Clay County Jail Partners LLC is a group organized to work with BW Development, Garmong Construction Services, RQAW, and GM Development to develop a proposal and scope of the potential $20 million project.
This project could include a new 38,000 square feet 275-300 bed housing pod connected to the south side of the existing facility. It could also create 33 new jobs in the community.
The exact design will be developed and refined over the next few months.
It will include a dedicated housing pod, space for support services like dedicated classrooms, space for medical and mental health, clergy, and attorneys.
Once a budget is determined, the project’s scope fits that budget, and a scheduled timeline for construction is agreed upon, the proposal will come back to the Commissioners.
Heffner said the Indiana Department of Corrections sets a classification threshold of 80%, meaning it is full.
“Since 2015, our average daily population has only dropped below threshold one time,” Heffner said. “We have been exceeding that threshold since 2016. In 2019, we exceeded that capacity by 33 inmates. We know we have a problem. We can either stick our heads in the sand or take some action.”
The CCJC is the only ICE detainee facility in Indiana. Still, officials say an arrangement with the federal agency generates upward of $1.4 million annually. That funding will help pay off the existing jail bond and allows the county to take advantage of lower bond interest rates without causing any additional tax rates to county residents.
“At this point, with the ICE program in mind, we will be able to support this,” said Heffner, adding there are other options for income from the project. “This isn’t something we have done off the cuff. We’ve looked at this and considered it seriously for the last 18-months. This is an opportunity to do this without raising taxes while doing it. We want to use every opportunity we can to save taxpayers money now instead of costing them extra money at a later date.”
It is unknown how long a process this development process will take. The Brazil Times will update this story.