The Times photo // JAIL EXPANSION: (From left to right) Hamilton County commissioners Steve Dillinger, Mark Heirbrandt and Christine Altman, Sheriff Mark Bowen and county councilman Paul Ayers break ground on the county’s $13.5 million jail expansion.
The Times photo // JAIL EXPANSION: (From left to right) Hamilton County commissioners Steve Dillinger, Mark Heirbrandt and Christine Altman, Sheriff Mark Bowen and county councilman Paul Ayers break ground on the county’s $13.5 million jail expansion.
Hamilton County broke ground Tuesday on an expansion of its current jail.

Phase I of the $13.5 million project will add 120 beds, which became a necessity after House Bill 1006 became effective in 2016 and requires certain felons to serve their terms in county jail rather than state prisons.

“When House Bill 1006 came into effect … we got hit with a lot of Level 6 inmates coming in,” said Hamilton County Commissioner Mark Heirbrandt. “It’s not only in Hamilton County — it’s throughout the state — everyone is seeing it.”

Heirbrandt, who also sits on the Indiana Association of County Commissioners Board, recently asked the members who represent the East Central District counties if any of them were currently building or had plans to build a jail expansion. “Every single one of them raised their hand,” Heribrandt said. “That’s the impact that House Bill 1006 is having.”

The current jail, which was built in 1993, was constructed to hold 296 inmates. The jail’s current population is nearing 400, and this will be the first major expansion it’s set to receive.

County officials have made efforts to cope with limited space, such as moving the female inmates from the jail pod to the Juvenile, but the time came when expansion became the only option.

“I’m very excited — it’s overdue,” said Hamilton County Council President Steve Schwartz. “In my eyes, this is a temporary fix. To really do it correctly, we really need Phase II. In the vision’s that I have as council president, I like these projects so we can build out for 20 years. We’re not building for today, we’re building for the future.”

Of note, Heirbrandt said, is that Hamilton County is not just one of the fastest growing counties in the state, but also one of the largest, with a population of approximately 316,000. Similar populated counties, such as St. Joseph, Allen and Lake, have 830, 741 and 1,009 jail beds, respectively. Hamilton County currently has 409 beds.

“After 25 years, we’ve done all we can do,” said Hamilton County Sheriff Mark Bowen. “We had no choice but to break ground on a new facility … It’s not something that we want to do, obviously, but we do live in a very safe community and we’re proud of that. But … we need to prepare for the future.”

County Commissioners are waiting for about another $4 million that could allow for an additional 136 beds, which would bring the jail’s total beds to 552. Phase I, which is scheduled to be completed April of 2019, will have to do for now.