Ken Falk photo

Tribune-Star file photo/Howard Greninger

Kenneth J. Falk, shown here in a file photo, says jail inmate counts at the Vigo County Jail are too high. A federal court has set a hearing for Nov. 6 in the federal courthouse in Terre Haute.

Inmate counts at the Vigo County Jail from June to September have seen a "precipitous increase," something the ACLU of Indiana said needs correcting and cannot wait until a new jail is built.

Kenneth J. Falk, attorney for the ACLU of Indiana, on Oct. 15 filed a response in federal court to a Sept. 30 jail status report to the court from Vigo County. Falk said inmate numbers are too high, citing inmate counts ranging from 323 to 359 people in the jail.

U.S. District Court Chief Judge Jane Magnus-Stinson on Oct. 17 ordered county officials to appear at 3 p.m. Nov. 6 at the federal courthouse in Terre Haute to discuss efforts made to address jail population and population pressures at the county jail.

Falk stated the county jail is rated for 268 beds, with the federal court concluding a jail is overcrowded when it exceeds 80 percent of its capacity, or 214 inmates in Vigo County.

The jail had 323 inmates on June 28; had 331 inmates on July 30; had 327 on Aug. 30; and 359 on Sept. 30, according to the county's status filings with the court.

"At 359 persons the jail is obviously operating at a crisis level as this is 134 percent of maximum capacity and 168 percent above the 214 figure," Falk stated in the federal filing.

Falk stated the county reported the Sept. 30 number was high as it was a Monday and the population rises significantly over the weekend.

"While it is assuring the jail's population is not consistently at 359, the fact that it rises to such a high level over the weekend is extremely disconcerting and raises the question of whether something should and can be done to prevent such a massive increase in the population on the weekend, or at any other time," Falk said.

Falk added, "Plaintiffs do not believe that allowing the population levels to be this high, or even higher, at any time pending construction of the new Vigo County Jail is a viable situation, given the length of time it takes to build a new facility. This is particularly true if the population regularly rises to such a high level on the weekends."

Vigo County Commissioner President Brad Anderson said Wednesday the most likely and most expedited way to reduce jail population is to move inmates to other jail facilities.

"We may have to start looking at sending more people out. We send most to Knox County, which is getting ready to build another jail pod, probably because they are getting used to bringing in a half million dollars from us" for housing inmates, Anderson said. "We send about 40 people now, but we have been up as far as 60. We are over 30 people now ... but it fluctuates."

The county plans to build a new jail off the 500 block of West Honey Creek Drive in Terre Haute. The roughly 500-bed jail is expected to cost about $56.28 million, not including costs of financing. Construction, once begun, is expected to take about two years.

Reporter Howard Greninger can be reached 812-231-4204 or Follow on Twitter@TribStarHoward.

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