The county is getting more time to respond to an order from the state to develop a plan to address overcrowding at the jail.

But the issue is still pressing, with more than 400 inmates at the jail as of Thursday — significantly more than the maximum of 322 inmates, county officials said.

A committee of local officials from multiple areas, including police, courts and probation, formed to consider different ideas for how to address the overcrowding situation is weighing each idea and eliminating what won’t work, Johnson County Commissioner Kevin Walls said.

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Most recently, that group eliminated the possibility of re-purposing the Johnson County Juvenile Detention Center for added jail cells after a state inspector said the facility didn’t meet space requirements and other federal rules for a county jail, Walls said.

That means the group will now continue to look at other options, which could include a new facility or an expansion.

But the county is limited in what it can do, mostly by cost, since the most the county can borrow without going to a public vote for the project is $15 million, Walls said. The county had a public vote for a $23 million jail expansion that would have added 400 beds in 2010, and it was turned down by voters.

“We are trying to do a 20-year fix, but I’m not sure we can do that financially,” Walls said.

The concern, he said, is finding a solution to the overcrowding problem that will last longer than just a few years.

“There are a lot of questions, and the deeper you get into it, the more questions there are,” Walls said.

“We are trying to figure out a long-term solution to an impossible problem.”

The county needs to make a decision about what to do to address the overcrowding problem by early next year, Walls said.

That proposal is due to the state in March, and will need to include a solid plan on what is being done, including number of beds and why that number was chosen, the timeline and how it is being paid for, Walls said.

One area Walls wants to explore is adding programs to address problems many jail inmates are facing, including mental health and addiction issues. The question is how to do that, and how to pay for it, he said.

“The jail is not meant for those, but it’s already doubling and tripling as those because we don’t have anything else out there,” Walls said.

While those discussions continue, the county is working everyday to address the overcrowding situation that is already a problem, Sheriff Doug Cox said.

The sheriff already has had to ask for additional tax dollars to pay for expenses related to the jail, including food and medical bills, and that will continue as long as the number of inmates in the jail remains high — and, he said, his numbers aren’t going down.

Typically, the number of inmates in the jail is lower this time of year, but that hasn’t been the case this year, Cox said.

Overcrowding at the jail has been a concern for years. The referendum for the proposed jail expansion was on the ballot the same year Cox was elected as sheriff.

But so far, no solutions have been found, and whatever proposal is made won’t actually be done until after Cox leaves office at the end of next year.

“Everything that is in the works right now, I don’t think I am going to see any relief during my remaining 13 months in office,” he said.

“Here we are, years later, still in discussions.”

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