Lake County to hire 24 jail officers, at a price

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CROWN POINT, Ind. (AP) - A federal order requiring Lake County to hire more corrections officers and mental health professionals for jail inmates is coming at a price: the end of the sheriff’s work-release program.

The program’s 28 county employees will lose their jobs next month to make way for the hiring of 24 corrections officers and three mental health providers without raising the county’s payroll.

“No one takes pleasure in reducing any jobs,” Councilman Jerome Prince told The Times in Munster. “But we have had to reduce 300 other jobs in the last few years. Our responsibility is to remain fiscally sound.”

The decision to hire more corrections officers follows a threat from the Department of Justice to hold the county in contempt for failing to adhere to terms of a settlement in a 2007 lawsuit filed by inmates over jail conditions. The Department of Justice identified 99 deficiencies that the jail needed to address, including hiring more correctional officers.

Sheriff John Buncich opposed the move to abolishing the work-release program, which keeps 77 offenders under minimum security. He noted through an attorney that the inmates contribute $300,000 of their wages to government coffers and perform an estimated $400,000 in community service work each year.

Attorney John Bushemi said the council could have used the county’s new income tax to hire the officers and keep the work-release program, but council members vehemently opposed a tax increase.

“Our only other choice was put everybody else on furlough or go to war against the Department of Justice, and we will lose that fight,” Councilman Ted Bilski said. “We had to speak out for the taxpayers of Lake County.”

The inmates will remain in dormitories at the Parramore building under the supervision of Lake County Community Corrections. The state-funded program provides residence and oversight for state prison inmates.

Bilski told the Post-Tribune that the work-release employees whose jobs are being eliminated will be able to apply for transfer to the jail or elsewhere within the sheriff's department.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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