Hamilton County jail debate focuses on underutilization of juvenile detention center

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NOBLESVILLE, Ind. - Several members of the Hamilton County Council are scrutinizing the county's Juvenile Services Center amidst discussions about a possible jail expansion.

Many say the current juvenile facility is being underutilized and costing tax payers too much money.

“We could send (the inmates) to Maui in a suite and the cost would be the same," County Council member Steve Schwartz, R-Hamilton County, said. "So I don’t know we’re doing the right thing. We need to make some changes.”

The 76-bed facility has averaged only seven inmates per day though the first half of 2016, according to documents provided by the construction and engineering firm working on the jail renovation.

In 2015, the juvenile facility cost $1.7 million to run. The same report said if the county closed the juvenile center and shipped the inmates to different centers around the state, Hamilton County could save more than $775,000 per year.

“I just think that would be a possible smart move for us," Schwartz said.

However, Hamilton County Sheriff Mark Bowen believes closing the center less than a decade after it opened would be premature. He explained the facility was built with a 30-year master plan in mind and can provide better services to the youth of Hamilton County compared to other facilities.

Instead, the sheriff is asking the county council to approve plans for a $12 million jail expansion that would add 120 beds to the already overcrowded facility as well as new kitchen and laundry services.

The sheriff is scheduled to present his final plans concerning the jail expansion and future of the juvenile detention center to the Hamilton County Council in September.

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