- Associated Press - Wednesday, July 6, 2016

NOBLESVILLE, Ind. (AP) - The sheriff of Indiana’s fourth-most populous county is seeking a nearly $12 million jail expansion, citing a new state law that’s funneling more inmates away from state prisons and into county jails.

Hamilton County Sheriff Mark Bowen said crime that’s grown along with the suburban Indianapolis county’s population is partly behind his funding request.

But he said Indiana’s new sentencing guidelines are contributing to the jail’s growing population. Starting this year, felons convicted of crimes such as theft, battery or drug offenses are being sentenced to county jail rather than state prison.

“We expect a pretty large number of folks being sentenced to those crimes will be spending time in county jail and community corrections,” Bowen told The Indianapolis Star (https://indy.st/29i2Qhd ).

Based on last year’s convictions in Hamilton County, Bowen anticipates holding 400 low-level felons who would have gone to state prison before the new sentencing guidelines took effect.

The jail in in Noblesville was built in 1993 and is designed to hold 296 inmates. But more than 330 inmates are now crowded into the cells and a temporary maximum security area the county created.

Bowen’s $11.9 million proposal calls for building an addition to the jail for 120 more inmates. He also wants to build new kitchen and laundry facilities and a new dining space at the adjacent community corrections building.

Bowen believes creating new dining, kitchen and laundry spaces will increase efficiency, but several Hamilton County Council members question whether it is worth the cost - about half of Bowen’s proposed expansion budget.

Several council members have expressed skepticism of the funding request, which the body plans to study this summer.

County Councilman Rick McKinney questions whether sentencing guidelines for adults, especially nonviolent offenders and those with drug-related convictions, will change over time, leading to less jail crowding.

“I think there’s the potential for changes in law in that we won’t be incarcerating nonviolent people,” he said.

But Bowen said he doesn’t expect large-scale sentencing changes any time soon and noted that counties statewide are adapting to the changes that took effect this year.

If the jail expansion funding is approved, he said that project would take about two years to complete.

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Information from: The Indianapolis Star, https://www.indystar.com

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