News From Terre Haute, Indiana

October 26, 2013

Sheriff appoints study committee to address jail overpopulation

Current facilities seen as insufficient to meet Terre Haute’s needs

Arthur Foulkes
The Tribune-Star

TERRE HAUTE — Vigo officials, facing a pending class action lawsuit, are set to tackle the county’s jail overcrowding problem, according to a Friday news release from Sheriff Greg Ewing.

Ewing has formed a study committee to discuss the future of the jail and “begin the initial steps that will eventually alleviate the jail overcrowding issues that have plagued the county for over three decades,” the release states.

The committee, whose first meeting date has not been set, will include county commissioners Judy Anderson, Brad Anderson and Mike Ciolli, county councilmen Bill Thomas, Tim Curley and Ed Ping, prosecutor Terry Modesitt, judge John Roach, county attorney Michael Wright and Bill Watson, community corrections director.

It will also include Sheriff Ewing, Chief Deputy Clark Cottom, Major Jeff Fox, Capt. John Moats and jail commander Lt. Charlie Funk.

The Indiana American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit this summer accusing the county of breach of contract for not complying with a 2002 agreement capping the jail population at 268, except during short-term emergencies.

Since the lawsuit was filed on Aug. 15, to stay under the cap, Ewing has been sending inmates to Knox County, which has extra jail capacity. That comes at a cost of $35 per inmate per day and represents only a “Band-Aid” solution, Ewing stated.

There were 16 to 18 Vigo inmates housed in Knox County on Friday, Ewing said.

As of Friday morning, the jail population in Vigo County was 242, Ewing said, but that changes almost constantly. The jail needs to leave 20 to 25 beds free to accommodate new arrests, he said.

The purpose of the new study committee is to “discuss current inmate population issues and to develop a plan going forward that will result in a long term fix for the jail,” the news release states.

“I understand that no one wants to build a new jail, I get it,” Ewing stated. “But with the pending ACLU lawsuit, yet once again, we have to do something to put this to rest once and for all.”

The Vigo County jail is badly undersized for the county’s population, Ewing said. Knox County, for example, has a modern, 250-bed facility with a total county population of about 36,000, he said. Vigo County’s population is about 106,000 yet the jail has only 18 more beds than Knox County’s, Ewing said.

“It doesn’t take a rocket scientist” to see the problem, Ewing said.

Reporter Arthur Foulkes can be reached at 812-231-4232 or arthur.foulkes@tribstar.com.