Madison County sheriff: 'We're struggling'

Zac Douglas monitors inmates at the Madison County Jail in this July 2018 file photo.

INDIANAPOLIS – Discussions are taking place on a possible regional jail facility to serve both Madison and Henry counties.

Officials met in Indianapolis on Monday with Rob Carter, commissioner of the Indiana Department of Correction, to determine the process that could lead to a combined 800-bed facility.

“I appreciate Madison County to be willing to look outside the box,” state Rep. Thomas Saunders, R-New Castle, said. “There are tools for the counties to join together.

“If you do this it will be first in the state,” he said. “A lot of people will be watching the process.”

A tentative meeting is set for 6 p.m. June 27 in New Castle that would bring together county councils to learn about the process of a regional jail.

The regional jail concept could include one or more counties and could also contract with a private entity to build, operate and maintain a facility, the officials were informed.

Officials were told that if a private entity is being considered to build and operate a regional jail there has to be a request for proposals and an agreement would have to outline how the counties are working together.

Madison County Sheriff Scott Mellinger said he was opposed to a private entity operating and owning the facility.

“I don’t prefer a regional jail,” he said. “If it is structured right, it could work.”

Mellinger said he was willing to consider a regional jail but he wants it located in Anderson.

Carter asked if a facility in Pendleton would work for both counties, to which Mellinger said that would cause additional costs to transport inmates for court appearances.

Henry County Sheriff Richard McCorkle said the county is out of time and has to move forward with a new facility.

“I’m not opposed to a regional jail,” he said. “If I have to farm people out, where will we send them? Lots of counties are looking for bed space.”

McCorkle said he was not opposed to a regional jail being located in Madison County, but said it would require a facility in New Castle to hold inmates.

Henry County needs to send 50 inmates to other counties immediately, he said.

“What is our next step?” McCorkle asked. “We have to have some answers.”

Both the sheriffs and county council in both counties have to agree to the concept to move forward with it.

“We need to determine if the sheriff and councils are willing to move forward,” Sen. Mike Gaskill, R-Pendleton, said. “The county councils have to be a part of the discussion. There are fundamental budget questions that have to be answered.”

The next step required by state statute is a feasibility study that will look at options instead of each county constructing its own facility.

Follow Ken de la Bastide on Twitter @KendelaBastide, or call 765-640-4863.

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Senior Reporter covering Anderson and Madison County government, politics and auto racing for The Herald Bulletin. Has been working as a journalist in central Indiana since 1977.