Feasibility study to begin for justice system


Details of the state-required feasibility study for the county’s justice system, especially the Dubois County Security Center, were hammered out Thursday.

The Dubois County Commissioners met with representatives of RQAW, the Fishers-based architectural firm that will complete the study for the county.

“Everything we are going to look at in this study is going to be projecting out 20, 25, 30 years,” said Sanjay Patel, the RQAW architect who will lead the county’s study. “We want to see what the growth pattern might be and what we need to do right now to handle that, so that five years from now we’re not going through this process again.”

A state law that went into effect this year requires a feasibility study be done before any new construction or remodeling can be done to a jail facility. The study must consider the needs of a facility, including size, location, staff and alternatives to incarceration.

The commissioners hired RQAW to complete the study for $15,000. Per the contract, the study will be completed in 90 days, which will be late February or early March, Patel said.

Patel explained the process for completing the study. Data and statistics on current facilities and populations will be collected, questionnaires will be sent to officials in the system to collect their perspectives, current facilities and their layout will be evaluated, and other available sites in the county will be sought.

“When we come out of this study, what we want to have is some options for remodeling (current facilities) and the addition of new facilities and the costs associated with that, and the pros and cons for each of those,” Patel said.

After all the information is collected, RQAW will develop design options and solutions and compile a final report for the county.

Commissioner Elmer Brames asked about finances and hiring a company to review and analyze the county’s financial capabilities. “So when we get the results of this study,” he said, “we know whether the options that are being presented to us are affordable for the county.”

Patel said that RQAW would want to work with the county’s chosen financial adviser as the study is being developed. At what point that is needed will be discussed, he said.

Commissioner Chad Blessinger said that he wants to make sure that the study looks at all departments in the county’s justice system, not just the security center. He mentioned as an example the Dubois County Courthouse, at which trials are held. Inmates are housed at the security center. But when they must appear in court, deputies have to transport them to the courthouse, which is blocks away, and stay to make sure they are monitored while they are at the courthouse.

“We’ve had issues with how we are bringing people in, and how we get them to the courtroom, and with the holding cells,” Blessinger said. “So there are some problems up there, too.”

Dubois County Councilman Jerry Hunefeld echoed the sentiments of several officials in saying that one of his biggest concerns is the ongoing operational costs, which includes staffing.

Ways to minimize operations cost and to run facilities more effectively will be included in the study, Patel assured.

“The jail is not designed very efficiently, he said. “It has its challenges.”

A local committee was created that RQAW will meet with to vet ideas and collect thoughts on local needs and wants. Committee members include Blessinger, Councilman Jerry Hunefeld, Sheriff-elect Tom Kleinhelter, former sheriff Terry Tanner, head jailer Randy Schnell, Prosecutor Anthony Quinn, probation head Jenny Lampert, one of the county’s two judges, a representative from community corrections, and Gil Eckerle, who lead a local group that investigated what the county needs in a criminal justice system. The committee will meet with RQAW every other Thursday starting in January.

The first meeting was set for 4 p.m. Jan. 3, in the commissioners/council room at the Dubois County Courthouse Annex, 602 Main St., Jasper. The meetings will be open to the public, the group determined.

In April 2017, the Indiana Department of Correction mandated that the county address overcrowding problems at the Dubois County Security Center. A free assessment completed by the National Institute of Corrections in December 2017 found several areas of the center could be improved, including having more programs to treat inmates’ substance abuse or mental and emotional problems and increasing the security center’s staff; the institute also said that local committee should be assigned the task of examining those needs more fully.

That local committee was formed, and reported to the commissioners in August that Dubois County needs a security center that can house 250 to 300 inmates. The center should have a centralized tower occupied by officers and surrounded by pods in which inmates reside. Those pods should be segregated to house inmates by gender, level of offense and whether or not inmates are getting substance abuse or behavioral treatment.

The county’s community corrections program should be expanded to accommodate more qualifying offenders and programming and treatment services should also be expanded at both facilities. The county should determine if it is financially beneficial to construct a judicial center at this time, and consider using the current security center for other purposes, the committee determined.

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