A new parking lot across from the Huntington County Jail is the first visible signs in the progress of the jail expansion project that is currently underway.

“Getting this building done, that’s my No. 1 priority right now,” said Huntington County Sheriff Chris Newton. “Having a safe environment not only for our employees but for the inmates.”

Newton says the jail expansion won’t be the solution to fix the county’s crime problems, but it will allow them to house inmates according to their charges in hopes of providing a better chance for rehabilitation.

The larger space would include classrooms and more opportunities for programs in the jail like the current J-CAP program, a chemical dependency program put on by the State Attorney General’s office.

“It takes like-minded people that all want to get their lives together and get on the right track and puts them all in one cell together so they can lean on one another,” Newton said. “There’s like a little community within the jail and they are all taking classes, taking programs, trying to help themselves so when they do get out, they’re on the right path.”

The number of inmates at the Huntington County Jail currently stands at 147 in a space with a rated capacity of 99 beds. The method in which the inmates are housed are linked to the lack of space.

“I can have a child molester with somebody that’s in for their second time for theft,” Newton said. “Every crime is mixed in with everybody because that’s just the way it is.”

Two weeks ago the jail had 68 inmates with Level 6 felony charges. Newton says the 68 inmates should be in the Department of Corrections (DOC). Newton believes the situation has gone downhill since Indiana lawmakers passed House Bill 1006, which he believes added to the overcrowding.

“We’re at 80-some inmates if they were taking the ones they used to take,” Newton said. “That tells me that our judges and prosecutors are doing something different, where people aren’t in jail.”

The current number of warrants the Huntington County Sheriff Department has stands at 792, including crimes against property owners, business owners, and the state of Indiana. The problem is – there’s nowhere to put them.

“Let’s say we go out and serve a fraction of that, where do we put them? We can’t. We have nowhere to put them,” Newton said. “Even if we have this jail done, that still doesn’t cover these warrants because no more than what we serve, more get issued.”

Newton says the laws themselves haven’t changed, but the penalties have changed. The challenge becomes figuring out what to do with inmates when the jail system is full, according to Newton.

“People didn’t quit committing crimes,” Newton said. “Superior court cases have gone up 30.3 percent, so where are those people? I’m not saying the jail is the answer for everything. I do think it needs to be a deterrent though. It needs to be here.”

Total expected costs of the jail expansion range from $14 million to $16 million. The expansion will have 220 total rated beds and add 19,250 square feet onto the existing 11,200 existing footprint. The project is currently in the bidding period.

Newton expects construction of the jail expansion project to begin sometime in spring 2020. DLZ, a correctional design firm out of Indianapolis, is handing planning for the structure. The company has provided Justice Architecture services to 59 Indiana counties.