Committee ready to dive into justice system issues


A local committee has formed to take a more in-depth look at how the problems in the county’s criminal justice system need to be addressed. The committee’s review will take longer and be more in-depth than the assessment done by the National Institute of Corrections in December.

Gil Eckerle of Jasper has been selected to lead the 16-member committee.

“This will be complex process, and quite intense,” Eckerle said this morning. “You have to treat everybody right. How you do that is what the committee will work on.”

The committee held its first meeting Tuesday afternoon to organize and review the objectives for the justice system assessment, which include addressing the security center’s overcrowding issue, recidivism and staffing problems.

Representatives of the National Institute of Corrections came to Dubois County in December and conducted a three-day study of the justice system. The assessment found several areas that could be improved, such as using more programs to treat inmates’ substance abuse or mental and emotional problems, collecting more detailed information about the inmate population and increasing the staff that handles inmates. Assessors noted that recidivism is high at the center and that most of those inmates deal with addictions, mental issues or emotional issues.

The local committee’s study will not be just about those who get in trouble with the law, Eckerle noted. “You have to consider the families too,” he said. “This is not a rubber stamp thing. There are people who need to be in jail. But there are those who don’t; there are other avenues that can be provided.”

The county has been heavily focused on the security system after receiving notice from the Indiana Department of Correction last April mandating that the county address the problems of overcrowding.

The NIC suggested in December that a local committee continue to study the system and give more specific suggestions for improving the justice system. Sheriff Donny Lampert, Councilman Jerry Hunefeld and Commissioner Elmer Brames took on the task of finding the committee members and a committee leader. The NIC assessors called that leader the “champion” and noted that the champion should be one who can mobilize the community to get support for whatever changes are needed to the system.

“We wanted to find the right person to chair the committee,” Brames said. “And we wanted it to be someone who is not a county official or county employee.” The goal was to find someone who is involved in and respected by the community, he said.

Eckerle is a lifelong resident of Jasper and was a Jasper police officer for 15 years, resigning in 1994. He recently sold his company, Audio World, and retired. For the past 20 years, he’s served on the Dubois County Sheriff’s Merit Board.

The trio approached Eckerle about leading the committee.

“I felt honored that they considered me,” he said. “This is right up my alley, as this is one of my passions. I am excited to be a part of the effort to help in finding out what are the needs of our system.”

The committee is comprised of representatives from the various areas of the justice system, such as the courts, sheriff, probation, community corrections, prosecution, defense attorneys, county government and the general public. Another list of 20 people is available for possible subcommittees or if a member of the main committee should step down, Brames said.

Committee members will likely attend NIC’s Planning of New Institutions program. The one-week training program covers new facility development in detail and focuses on collecting and using data collection and using pre-architectural programming, site evaluation, project management, and staffing need determinations. NIC programs and services are free to jurisdictions.

Eckerle said he is looking forward to diving into the local system assessment.

“We are going to get something done, but it won’t be a quick thing,” he said. “It’s going to take at least a couple of years. So many things need to be considered.”

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