Students sometimes complain going to middle school feels like being in jail. Now, a former Muncie middle school building will actually become one.
The Delaware County Justice and Rehabilitation Center will move from its current location in downtown Muncie to the former Wilson Middle School building in November to expand its jail capacity.
The former school, located at the corner of Tillotson Avenue and 26th Street in south Muncie, will not only become a jail but will also house the Justice Department offices and six courtrooms.
The site is undergoing renovations that are estimated to cost the county around $45 million, said Sherry Riggin, Delaware County commissioner. This is the cheapest solution for the county, according to the Delaware County website.
Tony Skinner, Delaware County sheriff, said previously the new site was the most economically feasible one because expanding the current Justice Center would cost a minimum of $65 million.
The current Justice Center building was built in the early 1990s and is suffering from maintenance issues and overcrowding, Skinner said.
“This facility that we nest in now doesn’t provide any room for expansion,” Skinner said. “We can’t go up, and we can’t go out with this building, so we can’t add more beds … We have outgrown this facility.”
Because the current facility is overcrowded, he said, inmates have to sleep on the floor or are transferred to another facility. Currently, 10 inmates are housed at the Blackford County Jail.
As of early January, Riggin said, there were around 285 inmates, but the facility only has 270 beds.
In 1992, the Delaware County Justice Center faced its first overcrowding lawsuit that resulted in the construction of the current building downtown, Skinner said.
More recently, an inmate filed another case against the jail for overcrowding in February 2019 and wrote there was “not enough room to walk in the day room and not enough showers for the toilets and inmates.” This was one of two cases filed for poor living conditions last year. Both cases are still pending.
Skinner said he believes the new facility will prevent new lawsuits and save the city money.
The current building is one long hallway with jail cells off both sides of the hall, which means corrections officers can’t see into any of the jail cells unless they walk down the hall, Skinner said.
The new facility would allow officers better oversight of all the inmates and increase the number of beds to around 500. Unlike the current facility, the beds will be placed in two housing areas: one area consisting of jail pods that lock and the other consisting of beds placed in open areas rather than in locked cells.
“We will be able to provide better criminal justice services with this building,” Skinner said. “It’s a pod system, which is the way all new jails are being constructed — with a control room in the center, and then the jail cells are basically in a circle around one control room. So, the corrections officers working in the control room can see all the activity in all of the jail cells from one centralized location.”
Another advantage to the new facility is the space it provides for the center’s day-to-day operations.
“If you just move the jail, then you have to deal with transportation back and forth, which is not always good,” Riggin said. “We are building [the new facility] for the client to make it the easiest on them.”
The courtrooms at the new facility take advantage of the new space and updated infrastructure to make room for court proceedings and visitors, according to the county’s website.
“Sometimes, you have 75 people show up for a case,” Riggin said. “It’s just so people have more room to do stuff. [In the current courtrooms], it’s just hard to see.”
Skinner said he thinks he can run the facility with the current amount of employees he already has, and the county does not plan to hire any additional employees.
The county’s website lists economic development potential as a benefit of the new facility with new businesses, such as restaurants and shops, coming in to support it.
It also states additional services — mental health counseling, rehabilitation and training — that can help inmates build more productive lives will be available at the new facility.
There are no definite plans for the current building after the Justice Center moves in November, Riggin said, but the county may sell or lease the building to nonprofits or community organizations.
Contact Hannah Gunnell with comments firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @hagunnellNEWS.