WABASH VALLEY, Ind. (WTHI) - Jail overcrowding is hampering counties across the state of Indiana. Here in Vigo County, a new jail is under construction, but local leaders say a new building is only part of the solution.
Since 2015, jail sentencing in Indiana has increased by 368%. That's according to the statehouse. Vigo County Sheriff John Plasse spoke with News 10 about the problem of jail overcrowding, how we got to this point, and how it's not just a problem in Vigo County.
Plasse referenced House Bill 1006 which passed in 2015. Level six offenders were made to serve out there time in local counties rather than state facilities. He says while this alleviated the overcrowding problem on a state level, most of the counties in the state have felt the fallout.
Sheriff Plasse also said we must get to the root of why most of these inmates are in jail in the first place. He says drug use and mental health issues are a big part of that.
Vigo County Prosecutor Terry Modesitt says that felony cases being filed are also up 25% right now. Both men agree that there isn't one cause for jails being overcrowded, but they agree that the number one goal is to keep Wabash Valley communities safe no matter the cost.
"People are doing bad things out there and one of our jobs is to make sure our community is safe," Plasse said.
"Law enforcement is doing a better job right now in solving some of these cases and getting arrests made," Modesitt agreed, "On the other hand you could look at it and say, unfortunately, crime is just up right now."
A new Vigo County jail is under construction right now. It will be able to house over 200 more inmates than the current jail in an effort to alleviate the jail overcrowding problem in our community. Both Modesitt and Plasse agree, though, that this new building is only part of the solution.
The Vigo County jail's capacity is 268 inmates. As of February 11th, the county has responsibility for 326 inmates. Vermillion County's jail is experiencing the same problem. They have 71 permanent beds for inmates, yet have a monthly population average of 78. Sheriff Plasse says building bigger jails won't be the final solution.
"We still need to focus on why they are getting there. That's drug addictions and mental health issues. That's never going to stop no matter if we build a bigger jail that can house everybody that we need to house," Plasse said, "We still need to work to get to that root problem because we are not doing ourselves any favors by just incarcerating people and not working to keep them from coming back in."
Modesitt agrees. Both he and Plasse say that the community is lucky to have support from different agencies, like the Hamilton Center, for drug counseling. Modesitt says, though, we can do even more to curb crimes before people commit them.
"We've got to invest, as a community, money in treatment," Modesitt said, "Because the drug addiction problem has been what's pushed everybody over the edge. It's not just a statewide problem, it's a national problem."
They say it's a complex issue. One that may not have a clear cut solution yet.
"I'm hopeful that we make a turn in the trend some time, but I just don't see it in the near future," Plasse concluded.
"It's an ongoing problem that as a society we are going to have to deal with," Modesitt continued, "Otherwise we are going to continue to have jail overcrowding problems.
Both Sheriff Plasse and Prosecutor Modesitt say building a bigger jail is a great first step, but they look forward to doing more to fight this problem moving forward.