The Journal Gazette
Sunday, September 12, 2021 1:00 am

Huntington expects new, high-tech jail in December

JAMIE DUFFY | The Journal Gazette

The $17.5 million jail expansion in downtown Huntington is expected to be completed in mid-December. 

Huntington County Sheriff Chris Newton says the number of the jail's beds will increase from 99 to 233. 

It will come less than five years after another area county, Adams, completed a new $20 million jail.

The Huntington expansion design features a pod system. Cells form a U with a 5-foot walkway behind the cells containing electrical and mechanical equipment, eliminating the need for workmen and women to enter the inmate area, Newton said.

Circular pod construction features a master control center in the center of a pie-shaped layout, contrasting with old-fashioned long jail corridors that require confinement officers to make scheduled patrol rounds. 

Steel cells transported from Georgia were installed in two to three weeks, equipped with a toilet, sink, two beds and a small table. A control room operator will be able to manage everything, including turning off water flowing in sinks and showers “so inmates can't flood things,” Newton said. 

The county chose to keep the jail downtown for convenience and cost with proximity to the courthouse. Building away from downtown would have presented problems that would cause “disruption in the community,” Newton said. 

With more drug cases and the state requiring local jails to house sentenced Level 6 felony inmates, overcrowding continues to be a problem with the jail population at 150 most of the time, Newton said. The jail addresses overcrowding by providing “boats” for sleeping. Boats are slightly elevated plastic beds with mat inserts, also used in Allen County and other jails.

In Adams County, Sheriff Dan Mawhorr came into office two years after the new 225-bed jail opened in 2017.

Some of the cells are used for holding and two are medical isolation rooms. The jail is built on a two-tier pod or one story with a mezzanine that has individual cells and some dormitory-style open rooms with bunk beds for “lower threat inmates,” Mawhorr said. 

It was built away from downtown Decatur on 15 acres and replaces a 65-bed capacity jail built in the mid-1980s that originally housed just 34 inmates, Mawhorr said. 

The Adams County facility was designed by Elevatus Architecture, the same firm that conducted an Allen County Justice Study with suggestions for additions to the downtown jail tower or building a new facility on at least 50 acres that would be part of a criminal justice complex. 

“We've been doing this kind of design for 25 to 30 years. It's just a matter of scale. You can only get 300 beds in a pod. Once you get beyond that, the geometry and sight lines become untenable,” said Cory Miller, Elevatus principal. 

Miller said the firm was also consulted on a new 2,500-bed jail in Marion County that is five stories, but is a design hybrid, organized differently than the 40-year-old Allen County's urban tower. 

The Marion County Jail will be part of a nearly $600 million criminal justice campus on the southeast side of Indianapolis scheduled to be completed this year.

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