A new solution to overcrowding at the county jail also would help change the focus of programs to help teens and children who break the law.

County officials have been discussing the need for a larger jail for years, as the number of inmates inside has come close or reached capacity. Voters turned down a $23 million expansion in 2010, but a smaller remodeling project helped add another 18 beds.

A long-term solution is needed, especially due to changes in state law that require counties to keep more offenders in jail, rather than send them to prison, officials have said. For example, if an offender is sentenced to less than a year, they must serve that time in a county facility, and some low-level crimes, such as theft, aren’t eligible for a prison sentence anymore.

Now, the county is considering a new plan, which would allow the jail to take over the juvenile detention center, next door to the sheriff’s office. The county would then need to build a new juvenile detention center, but the goal would be to build one that focuses more on classes and programs, rather than detention, Johnson County Commissioner Ron West said.

That would allow the county to put more of an emphasis on getting a high school diploma, counseling and treatment for addiction or mental health issues for teens and children who break the law, he said. The focus is the same as what the county has been wanting for a new community corrections center, which would have more space for classes and programs for adults on work release and home detention, he said.

“If we don’t as a society try to treat that, they will just keep going through the system,” West said.

The plan would be a long-term solution, but likely could not happen for at least a few years, West said.

Sheriff Doug Cox said using the juvenile detention center for a jail would not be his top choice, since that is not what the facility was created for, and it would require renovations.

But, if the space was needed due to overcrowding, he would use it, he said. As of Monday, the jail population was at 295, with a total capacity of 322.

Before anything could be done, the county will first need to build a new community corrections facility, which is currently planned for the northeast corner of Hospital and Drake roads — about 500 feet away from the current facility.

The county still needs approvals from the city for the new center, and Franklin officials have raised some concerns about the location and its proximity to homes. If the new facility is approved and built, the county could build a new juvenile detention center on the former community corrections site, West said.

The current juvenile detention center has beds for teens and children, but usually only houses eight to 10, West said. That includes other counties, such as Monroe and Tippecanoe, who send juveniles to Johnson County to be housed.

A future center could be designed to have enough room to house juveniles, as needed, but also be able to offer more classes and programs, West said. In the past, the juvenile detention center has had as many as 95 percent of teens earn their GEDs, and he wants to continue that success, West said.

That would allow the county to spend less, since the top cost to run the center is to house the juvenile offenders, and offer more programs where they have the most success, West said. State and federal officials also have recognized those programs are beneficial and are starting to set aside more funding, he said.

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Annie Goeller is managing editor of the Daily Journal. She can be reached at agoeller@dailyjournal.net or 317-736-2718.