Jail revamp gets initial OK from county council

The Huntington County Council has given preliminary approval to a plan to enclose an outdoor recreation area at the Huntington County Jail — and, in the process, possibly give jail inmates the tools they need to turn their lives around.

During its meeting on Monday, June 26, council members gave Tom Wall, president of the Huntington County Commissioners, the OK to seek bids for the conversion of the jail recreation area, a project estimated to cost about $370,000.

The new space — which will get a roof, insulated walls and an overhead door — can continue to be used for recreation, but will also provide space for counseling and classes designed to help those with mental health or addiction issues.

There’s just no room for that type of counseling now, Wall said, as the jail continues to be filled to — and, at times, beyond — capacity.

“There are some days I can’t even use my classroom because we’re so overcrowded,” said Jeff Carrell, pastor of The Awakening Community Church and chaplain at the jail.

Some of the inmates are serving sentences of a year or more at the jail, he said, with no opportunity to receive treatment for mental illness or addictions. With no help in turning their lives around, he said, many are returned to jail soon after their release.

“We have a spiritual need for these inmates,” Wall said.

In addition, Huntington Superior Judge Jenny Newton said she would be interested in using the new space to conduct videoconferences with the inmates, who would then not need to be escorted to the courthouse by jail staff.

Jail Commander Jeff Kyle said the recreation area is currently not used for some nine months of the year because the state requires a minimum outdoor temperature before prisoners can be allowed in an outside recreation area.

Before a change in state rules that went into effect about two years ago, the Huntington County Jail rarely kept inmates who received sentences of more than a year.

Now, the state sends more of those prisoners to the local jail, paying the county $35 a day to keep them.

Kyle said he’s currently housing 14 of those prisoners at the Miami County Jail, sending the $35-a-day state payment from the state on to Miami County.

More prisoners are also being sent to the Community Corrections program, said Leslie Rentschler, that program’s director. Community

Corrections has supervised 441 individuals since the program began in 2013, she said, and so far this year has supervised 226 individuals.

All of the people Community Corrections supervises, she said, have mental health or addiction issues.

“It’s quite a big problem,” she said.

Community Corrections works with the Bowen Center and other agencies to provide services to those individuals, she said, “to help that cognitive behavioral change happen.”

Kyle also told council members of a new videoconferencing system that will replace face-to-face visits with inmates.

The jail’s phone supplier is providing all equipment for the new system at no charge, he said. Visitors will sign up for times at a kiosk in the jail lobby, which will connect to a video screen in the inmate’s cell.

Remote visitation — allowing a person to contact an inmate from a location besides the jail — will be offered for a fee, Kyle said, which is where the phone supplier will make its money. The county will also receive a percentage of that fee, he said.

The new system will free up space, Kyle said, and free the jail staff from the responsibility of shuttling inmates to and from the visitation area.