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Crowded jail forces sheriff to send inmates out of county

ANDERSON, Ind. (WISH)-The Madison County Sheriff says an overcrowded jail is forcing him to send inmates to other counties. He’s now calling on county leaders to help find an answer.

Sheriff Scott Mellinger said one reason for the increase in inmates is an increase in drug abuse in Madison County. He also blames a state bill passed three years ago that requires county jails to house some felons who would otherwise live in state prisons.

Mellinger said more than 250 inmates would sleep at the jail Wednesday night, but the jail only holds 207 beds.

“Basically, 43 inmates would sleep on the floor and they do have a mattress that’s about three inches thick,” Mellinger said. “But that creates so much congestion in each cell block that tensions run very high amongst offenders.”

Marion County Sheriff John Layton handled overcrowding by sending more than 100 inmates to jails in Clark and Elkhart counties.

Last week, Mellinger took a page out of that playbook.

He sent 16 Madison County inmates to a jail in Blackford County.

“It’s just way too risky to put people who are suicidal in with other persons who have serious mental illnesses or addictions,” Mellinger said.

Mellinger said that so far, his decision has only taken about $200 in transportation money from his budget.

The sheriff said he’s worried the costs could go add up if he has to send more inmates out of the county. Mellinger is calling on county leaders to start planning for a new jail.

“You can only put Band-Aids on problems for so long and, at some point, you’re going to have a much bigger problem that you can’t handle,” Mellinger said.

According to Mellinger, the jail in Blackford County is charging $35 daily to house the Madison County inmates. Mellinger said that cost is covered right now by funds his team gets from the state.

Last June, detectives said an inmate knocked a hole in the wall of the Madison County Jail in an attempt to smuggle cigarettes.

Officers said they caught a Madison County inmate trying to scrape his way out of the jail with a piece of metal last year.