Progress continues at Huntington County jail

The expansion project for the Huntington County Jail is on course to be completed as scheduled. Featured, crew members work to pour flooring that will be in the cell blocks of the jail. Photo by Katelynn Farley.
The expansion project for the Huntington County Jail is on course to be completed as scheduled. Featured, crew members work to pour flooring that will be in the cell blocks of the jail. Photo by Katelynn Farley. Photo by Katelynn Farley.

On June 17, 2020, the Huntington County Jail expansion project officially started with a ceremonial groundbreaking. Now, seven months later, major progress has been made on the expansion.

The current jail is built to hold 98 inmates. As of Wednesday, Jan. 13, the inmate count was at 123 - and is regularly around that number or higher.

Fifty-six of these inmates are considered Level 6 felons. In previous years, these inmates would be dealt with by the Department of Corrections. Now, they are housed at the county level - which caused an influx of inmates to occur.

“Jails were designed to be short-term holding facilities for low-level crimes,” Huntington County Sheriff Chris Newton said. “And now with the holding of these Level 6 (offenders) . . . we had to incorporate some way to get church, education, substance abuse information (and more) supplied here.”  

Newton hopes that, with the addition, inmates will have the opportunity to learn through programs and choose “not to re-offend, and do something (productive) with their time.”

“I remember talking to the Sheriff at the time when they built (the original building), Ray Williams,” Newton said. “I asked him if he thought it was going to be big enough. . . I think they were over population within a year.”

Newton has “no doubt in (his) mind” that, due to cases that are being put off because of COVID-19, that the number of inmates will eventually rise.

Many of the benefits that Newton noted about the new jail revolved around the safety of staff and the safety of inmates.

“Every design idea has to be centered around safety,” Newton said. “Safety is paramount in here.”

These safety designs include a separate detox area for males and females, a separate book-in station, a new control center on the second story that will enable guards to see each cell block, a body scanner at intake and technology updates.

The body scanner has already been purchased and will be available for use prior to the addition being completed. This purchase will aid officers in discovering drugs or other items that inmates are trying to smuggle in to the jail.

Updating the current footprint of the jail by expanding will save the county millions of dollars, according to Newton. Though the cost of the expansion is $17 million, building an entirely new facility would cost upwards of $30 to $40 million.

Newton also noted that keeping the location of the jail the same would benefit both the public and police officers.

“It’s not perfect, but when you look at the cost of staying in the same footprint versus moving somewhere else . . . staying somewhere that the community knows, across from the courthouse ... was common ground, I guess you could say,” Newton said.

According to Chief Deputy Chad Hammel, there have been very few disruptions to the schedule that was laid out by Weigand Construction.

“They provided us with a schedule that detailed what’s going to happen and what order it will happen in. And so far, they’re right on target with that.”

Hammel said that, currently, crews are pouring floors inside the jail.

One delay that the department is facing revolves around the pre-furbished jail cells that are coming from Georgia. Due to COVID-19, there is a “question of an exact delivery date” for the cells, but are still slated to arrive sometime in February.

The cells are made of steel and have a special coating inside that will deter inmates from destroying cells or passing items back and forth between cells.

Should the construction of the jail addition stay on track, it should be completed by the spring of 2022.  

“So far, we’re on the right track,” Hammel said.