Council receptive to remodel of open area at county jail

An open recreation area in the center of the Huntington County Jail offers the perfect opportunity to begin providing counseling and other services to inmates, Sheriff Terry Stoffel told members of the Huntington County Council during their meeting on Monday, April 24.

A roof and raised floor could be added to the space for about $260,000, with some additional expense for running utilities into the area, Stoffel said.

That would give the jail an extra 720 square feet to use for counseling, mental health services, church services and other programs for inmates — something there just isn’t room for now, Stoffel says.

Safety issues prevent counselors from visiting the jail cells, he added, and inmates have no opportunities to receive help in turning a page on their lives.

“They have no resource to be a better person,” Stoffel said.

Although Stoffel did not formally request the money, council members seemed receptive to the idea.

The county needs to explore “what we can do differently rather than just cramming them into a cell,” council President Kendall Mickley said.

“We have to try to teach them, try to make them be better, smarter,” Stoffel said. That could cut down on the recidivism rate, which Stoffel said is “pretty high.”

Services that could be used by inmates are available locally, Stoffel said, but not to inmates.

“Huntington County’s got it,” Stoffel said. “They just don’t have a way in to the jail.”

Stoffel did request, and received, an appropriation of $67,000 to buy a new generator for the jail.

“After the fire downtown, our  generator is done,” Stoffel said. “It’s nothing more than a boat anchor right now.”

The fire on March 8 resulted in the power being shut off to a wide area in and around downtown Huntington, an area that included the jail. The jail’s generator kicked on but, by the time the power was turned back on, the generator had no more to give.

The actual cost will be somewhat higher, Stoffel said, because new safety regulations require that the jail’s elevator be tied in to the generator. That cost and the cost of installing the generator has not yet been established, he said.

Council members approved the money to buy the generator and asked Stoffel to return at the May meeting to request the additional funds.

Also during the meeting, the council heard from Beka Lemons, director of the Huntington City-Township Public Library.

Lemons presented the council with the library’s 2016 impact report as part of what she said was a move by the library to “communicate more with our community partners.”

The highlight of the year, she said, was the completion of a new building for the library’s Markle branch, which opened in June.

“Every month since then we have almost doubled the visits and the checkouts from the past year,” Lemons noted.