New recreation room at county jail to have many uses, sheriff notes

Dylan Hamilton (right), a trusty at the Huntington County Jail, cuts a sound panel that will be hung up in the jail’s revamped recreational room on Thursday, Feb. 28. Assisting Hamilton is Mike DeLong, of Lehman Floor Covering. Once sound panels are done being installed in the room, which had echo issues, it will be ready to host programming that Huntington County Sheriff Chris Newton believes will have a positive impact on inmates’ lives.
Dylan Hamilton (right), a trusty at the Huntington County Jail, cuts a sound panel that will be hung up in the jail’s revamped recreational room on Thursday, Feb. 28. Assisting Hamilton is Mike DeLong, of Lehman Floor Covering. Once sound panels are done being installed in the room, which had echo issues, it will be ready to host programming that Huntington County Sheriff Chris Newton believes will have a positive impact on inmates’ lives. Photo by Steve Clark.By

The highlight of the recreational room at the Huntington County Jail used to be a basketball hoop.

Inmates utilized the hoop regularly, says Huntington County Sheriff Chris Newton, playing games that often got rowdy.

“It’s barnyard basketball in the jail, every game,” he says.

It was a brand of basketball that frequently led to battered wrists and ankles.

“There were so many injuries that were happening as a result of it,” says Newton. “Of course, when they get injured, we have to take an officer, put them at the hospital.

“We have to pay for all of it.”

Eventually, the sheriff’s department decided it would be for the best if the hoop were removed.

It’s not the only change the recreational room has undergone. In December 2017, the Huntington County Council voted to fund a project that would enclose the room, which was covered by a net instead of a roof. Construction got underway in 2018. While the project experienced delays, it is finally on the verge of completion, priming the recreational room to be used in a variety of ways.

The jail badly needed a space to host groups that wanted to enter the facility and offer programming to inmates, says Newton. The space that was being offered to those groups, he says, could accommodate less than a dozen people.

In the revamped rec room, which is approximately 30 feet by 30 feet, Newton says the Indiana Dream Center and Bowen Center will hold courses for men and women, respectively. Those classes, he notes, will be made possible by grants from Local Anti-Drug Coalition Efforts (LACE) of Huntington County.

Additionally, the room will host General Education Development (GED) classes, plus church services, states Newton.

“Never really had anything like that,” says Newton of church services at the jail.

In addition to a roof being constructed over the room, the walls were painted and heating, ventilation and air-conditioning infrastructure was installed. Also, to satisfy a state requirement that stipulates inmates must have access to fresh air, doors were installed near the ceiling that can be opened to the outdoors at any time.

Finishing touches on the room have included a lock for the interior door handle and an intercom.

“If something happens in there, they need to have the ability to ask for help,” says Newton of the intercom.

The big finishing touch, though, has been the installation of sound panels to improve the room’s acoustics.

“It was like trying to talk in a large metal box,” explains Newton. “Every time you talked, you heard yourself 50 to 100 times again. It was terrible.”

To remedy the problem, Newton sought quotes for sound-panel installation. However, when the lowest of those quotes came back at $20,000, he knew that hiring a contractor was not going to be financially feasible.

After learning that the recommended sound panel for their project was a two-inch model called Tectum, Newton and Chief Deputy Chad Hammel decided that they didn’t need a contractor.

“We were able to order and purchase the recommended material and decided we were going to do it ourselves,” comments Hammel.
So, the jail staff has been working to get the sound panels installed. The project’s key contributor has been Dylan Hamilton, whom Newton says is “a jail trusty who just happened to be a guy that used to hang this stuff.” Hamilton has received assistance from the staff at Lehman Floor Covering, in Huntington.

As of Feb. 28, three of the room’s four walls had been outfitted with panels.

“After these are done, we’re ready to rock and roll,” says Newton. “The only thing I need to go buy are some chairs.”

Ultimately, it is Newton’s hope that the programming in the rec room helps create lasting change in the lives of inmates, particularly those who continually commit crimes that land them in jail – a phenomenon known as recidivism.

“We’re trying to lower this recidivism rate, so that the people we’re seeing now aren’t the same ones we’re seeing in the future,” says Newton.

“Right now, of our 130 inmates that we currently have, all but 12 of them are in here for either their second or their 11th time.”

“It’s astounding,” adds Hammel. “It’s just a revolving door.”

To get inmates to check out courses like the ones that will be offered by the Indiana Dream Center and Bowen Center, Newton says there will be an incentive.

“By attending these courses and getting the treatment, they can use those (to) be eligible for time cuts and, again, get them out,” he states.

Once inmates are out, Newton says he hopes they will have learned things in the rec room that help make their freedom permanent.

“Once they leave here, it’s in their hands,” he says. “They have to choose to not want to come back, to make a difference.

“But we can say, ‘We gave you all the tools. And here’s how you can use them.’”