Jail work continues now that new wing is completed

The multi-million dollar expansion of the Johnson County jail is completed — but the work doesn’t stop there.

Now that the main project is done, officials discovered they still had some money left over in the jail local income tax fund that could be used to help with other renovations needed at the jail, while still honoring the original agreement. The 20-year tax, which took effect in October 2019, increased the local income tax to 1.2% from 1% and impacts all workers who live in Johnson County, regardless of what county they work in.

The extra jail LIT funds were designed as a contingency in case project costs were more than expected, said Kevin Walls, county commissioner.

Officials are now wanting to renovate some parts of the jail that haven’t been touched since the 1970s and 80s. The main focus of the work is to replace pipes, along with upgrading electrical and lighting systems in older parts of the jail, Walls said.

“It’s like a maintenance contract on steroids,” he said. “This is going to retrofit a lot of stuff in there that’s just worn out.”

Greenwood-based Sexson Mechanical was awarded the $285,500 renovation contract on Monday. The project is expected to be completed by May 2022, according to county documents.

The overall $23.1 million jail project to add 264 additional beds, a new intake area, an expanded medical center and more was completed this fall. The project also came in several thousand dollars under budget.

The Johnson County Justice Center addition was needed due to chronic overcrowding at the jail, which county officials including multiple sheriffs have grappled with for years. The jail was built in 1977.

As the county’s population increased, so did crime. The county had to renovate and restructure parts of the jail in response to a 1997 federal lawsuit. After the lawsuit, the jail was remodeled and a new wing was added that raised the jail’s capacity to 299 from 104 in 2002.

More beds were added in 2012, after an inspector with the Indiana Department of Correction found room for 23 more bunks at the request of Sheriff Duane Burgess, who was jail commander at the time, and then-sheriff Doug Cox.

Still, the 322-bed facility was often crowded with as many as 459 people incarcerated. In 2018, the state forced the county to take action.

The jail’s new 586-bed capacity will support the county’s average inmate population, and leaves room for more. The new beds are in a new wing west of the existing jail, connected by a walkway. The addition includes about 74 additional cells across two floors. Also in the new wing is a break room for jail officers, several office spaces, padded cells and classroom space for classes and support groups.

Multiple other renovation projects were also completed in the old wing, including additional pull-in bays for arresting officers, more office space for deputies to complete their reports, a streamlined intake area, an expanded medical center, a larger commissary and multiple virtual courtrooms.