Jail study continues; expansion will be at current site

By CANDY NEAL
cneal@dcherald.com

Expanding the Dubois County’s jail facility and possibly other departments in the justice system in the future is still at the forefront of county officials’ minds.

While not much is known as to how that will be done, the Dubois County Commissioners know any work will be done in the area where the current jail is now.

“We wanted to make sure there weren’t any lingering rumors or doubts of where we wanted to go with whatever project we do,” Commissioners President Chad Blessinger said. “We wanted to clarify that whatever we do will be done on the existing footprint or in that area.”

The Indiana Department of Correction is mandating that the county address overcrowding in the jail. An assessment done in 2017 by the National Institute of Corrections found several areas of the justice system could be improved, including having more programs to treat inmates’ substance abuse or mental and emotional problems, and increasing the security center’s staff. A state-mandated feasibility study completed in June suggested the jail facility should have between 244 and 270 beds to keep up with the need for the next 20 years. That study also suggested two sites for a new jail facility: the current site and the Old National Bank site at Sixth and Mill streets.

The commissioners determined the facility would not go to the bank site. Last week, they officially confirmed any expansion would be done at the current jail site.

“Occasionally we’re still hearing that people thought we may be going into the bank,” Blessinger said. “We felt we needed to clarify that we are not.”

RQAW has been hired as the firm that will create the final design for the project; the firm has been talking to office holders to reconfirm their space needs. Blessinger has been working with RQAW and construction manager Shireman Construction on preliminary processes while the commissioners wait for information from a study that is being funded by the Dubois County Community Foundation.

Representatives from the University of Cincinnati will be spending a few days in the area to study the processes and procedures of the county’s justice system. The goal is to see if there are things that can be done to reduce the amount of time people spend in jail or the amount of time they spend going through the legal system process, Blessinger said.

“In 45 days or so, we should have those results and their findings back,” he said. “I’m hoping they will come in and give us some concrete suggestions.”

At the same time, the county is negotiating with SERVUS for land it owns near the community corrections facility. Some of the land is covered gravel and is used as a parking lot.

Blessinger and County Attorney Greg Schnarr met with SERVUS representatives last week, and have submitted an offer.

“We’re constrained by state law on what we can pay for property, and for good reason, to protect the taxpayer,” Blessinger said. “So we’ve offered to purchase it for what we can.” By state law, that offer can be no more than the average of two appraisals.

But, “they are a business, and they’re looking at their future development. They don’t want to put themselves in a bad shape,” Blessinger said. “So they’re just being thoughtful and trying to figure out what’s best for them as well.”

So the two sides are negotiating.

“That being said, I’m pretty limited on how I can negotiate. I had to tell them that this is the most we can pay you,” Blessinger said.

He is remaining hopeful. “I think we will come to a good resolution. We’re just not there yet,” Blessinger said. “But we’re happy to be working with them.”

With so many moving parts in this process, the commissioners are remaining patient and careful not to move too fast.

“These are big, multi-million-dollar decisions we’re making,” Blessinger said. “We want to make sure we have a full amount of information, to make sure we’re fully informed as we can be before we make any of these decisions.

“This is not my money. This is taxpayers’ money. We have to proceed with care and caution.”




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