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RICHMOND, Ind. — At a time when many Indiana jails are dealing with overcrowding and some are facing lawsuits, the Wayne County Jail is now the first in Indiana to receive a Level II Accreditation rating from the National Institute for Jail Operations.

Wayne County is also the first jail to receive the accreditation in the 7th Judicial Circuit, which also includes Illinois and Wisconsin. The jail scored a 97.32 percent in order to receive the accreditation.

Wayne County Sheriff Jeff Cappa said he and his jail staff spent the last two years reviewing jail policies and procedures in order to get them in line with nearly 600 guidelines established in various court rulings.

“There were about 50 or 60 policies that had to either tweak or totally just change because they didn’t meet that particular standard,” Cappa said. “Once those were done, we then cascaded down into the staff. Staff were understood and if there was training involved, then we had training done.”

Since the policy updates were based on existing case law, Cappa said he and his staff will have to be on constant lookout for any new rulings that could change policies.

“We have to keep on top of that,” said Cappa. “Because as court opinions change or statutes change, we need to make sure that we are, in fact, in accordance with each one of those.”

Updated policies pertained to a wide variety of daily jail operations, Cappa said. They ranged from how to handle inmates’ medical needs and grievances, to religious sensitivity and in-jail weddings.

The accreditation comes as many Indiana jails are struggling to keep up with overcrowding issues as a result of several factors. Changes in state sentencing law have kept more low-level felons in local jails, rather than sending them to state prisons. County populations and drug-related crimes are also on the rise. Inmates in the Henry County recently filed a lawsuit that claims overcrowding and poor conditions inside the jail.

Cappa said achieving Level II Accreditation status greatly reduces the jail’s risk of facing such a lawsuit.

“Nationally, you’re probably looking at about 70 percent liability on a correctional facility in a community,” Cappa said. “And when you have accreditation status, you take that down to about 28 or 30 percent.”

Cappa said he and his staff also benefited from having a relatively new jail facility. The Wayne County Jail was opened in 2004 and has a capacity of 416 inmates. That’s nearly 100 more than the jail in Johnson County, which also has more than double Wayne County’s population.

While receiving the Level II Accreditation is an honor, Cappa said it’s also an ongoing challenge to maintain the high standards.

“We’re going to have to make sure that every day we’re following those policies. We have to provide them with proofs of compliance. We have to make sure that we’re doing everything we say we do, or we will lose that accreditation status.”