Inspector: Renovating jail will be difficult, expensive


JASPER — The inspector who told the county last year that the Dubois County Security Center is not in compliance with state rules told the county’s criminal justice system committee Tuesday that renovating the current security center will be very difficult and very expensive because the facility is old.

“Because it’s 24/7, it gets a lot of abuse,” Kenneth Whipker, executive liaison for sheriff and county jail operations for the Indiana Department of Correction, told the committee. “It would be very tough to rehab this building. And it will be very costly.”

The committee asked Whipker to tour the building with committee members and point out areas where things need to be changed or improved.

The county has been heavily focused on the security system after receiving Whipker’s notice last April mandating that the county address the problems of overcrowding.

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 assessors suggested in December that the local committee continue to study the system and give more specific suggestions for improving the justice system.

Since the time the security center was built, which was in the early 1990s, the state’s standards for jails have changed dramatically. Prior to the 2013 changes, the standards hadn’t been updated since 1983.

And now that the state has told the county that the facility is not in compliance, mainly because of overcrowding issues, the county is looking at what can done to improve the facility to get back into compliance.

“If you’re thinking about renovating this place,” Whipker told the committee, “the whole facility has to be brought up to the new standards.”

Whipker gave out a booklet listing the highlights for state jail standards, along with the Indiana code references for the standards.

“It’s more than just having more inmates than what you have beds for,” he said. “It’s the domino effect of what happens there.”

Dubois County’s security center currently has 84 beds. The ideal situation is for less than 80 percent of those beds to be filled, Whipker explained.

“A jail is considered crowded when it reaches 80 (percent) of its regular capacity,” Whipker said. With 84 beds at the security center, having 67 inmates puts the facility at 80 percent capacity.

As of Tuesday afternoon, the jail population was 77 inmates; with 13 of those being people who do not live in Dubois County. While that means every inmate has a bed, technically it’s overcrowded, according to the standards.

“You have to have a place where you can segregate and house people separately if you have to,” Whipker said. “You have some who can’t get along, or have mental health issues, so on and so forth. You have to be able to properly house these people.”

Dubois County is not unique in having jail facility issues. Whipker named 10 other counties in southern Indiana that have either built a new facility, like Perry County, added on to their current facility, like Vanderburgh County, or are like Dubois County and are looking into what can be done with the current facility.

“What you’re experiencing here in Dubois County is not uncommon,” he said. “About two-thirds of the counties are above their inmate capacity at this point and time. It’s not unique from that standpoint.”

Committee member Jerry Hunefeld asked what the facility could be used for if it wasn’t the county jail. Whipker said it could be a mental health treatment facility.

“There are some mental health patients that need to be secured, locked in,” he said. He mentioned that 80 percent of the inmate population has some sort of mental health issue. Treating the ones you can will help, so long as there is some kind of after-care once that person is released, he said.

Another idea is to have a separate jail for women. Whipker mentioned that Jackson County is closing its juvenile facility and making it a female jail.

“Female inmates are the fastest growing jail population in the United States,” Whipker said. “I think within the next 10 years, you’ll see the male and female population will be 50-50. And they bring a different set of issues — how they’ve been treated through relationships; they’ve got children; the husband or old man has walked away from everything. And on the hygiene and medical side, that’s a whole different set of problems.

“So you might want to think about something like that,” he said.

Within Dubois County’s current inmate population, 14 inmates are women. They are housed in a different area of the jail, away from the men.

The facility could also be used for an expanded work release facility. But again, some renovations would be needed.

“One way or the other, you will have to put some money into it, if you want to keep it for something,” Whipker said.

Committee members will review the information they received and meet again at 4 p.m. Tuesday, April 3, at the Dubois County Courthouse Annex.

“We’ve got a lot to go through,” committee leader Gil Eckerle said.

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