Justice system review focuses on four issues


JASPER — The committee studying the county’s justice system narrowed its focus down to four items at its meeting Tuesday.

The group met in the Dubois County Courthouse to look over the wish lists from each department involved in the justice system, from the jail and community corrections to the courts to the prosecutor. The list of possibilities covered several pages. From there, the committee narrowed its focus to the four items: getting rehabilitation programs into the jail; expanding community corrections; a construction project to build a jail that meets state standards; and figuring out what to do with the current jail when the new one is complete. The committee will meet again at 4 p.m. on Tuesday, July 24, at Community Corrections to turn their focus into a proposal for the Dubois County Commissioners.

“It’s all going to boil down to dollars and cents,” said Gil Eckerle, the leader of the committee. “We know that.”

The focus on the county’s justice system began in April 2017 when the Indiana Department of Correction mandated that the county address overcrowding in the jail. In December, representatives of the National Institute of Corrections 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 — which is the rate at which offenders re-offend after leaving custody — is high at the center and that most of those inmates deal with addictions, mental issues or emotional issues. The committee formed as a response to the NIC assessment and quickly identified recidivism­ as an area of focus, in addition to jail overcrowding.

Part of the plan to reduce recidivism includes getting education programs similar to those at community corrections — such as addiction treatment and behavior modification classes — into the jail. Right now, none of those programs happen in the jail.

“They’re getting out (of jail) the same person that went in,” said Dubois Superior Court Judge Mark McConnell.

From his experience, McConnell said, there are three types of people that come through the justice system. The first type are the people who will self-correct. They made one mistake, and the embarrassment of being in court is enough to keep them from making the same mistake again, McConnell said. The third type are the people who won’t change and are a danger to society. Usually, McConnell said, county officials try to transfer these people to the state’s Department of Justice. The second type, and the type McConnell thought the committee should focus on getting better services for, are the people who want to change, but need help to do so. Those people can benefit from educational programs in the jail and community corrections.

“That’s really what the focus should be to me,” McConnell said. “Now what that is, we can all have our differences of opinion.”

He also pointed out that the justice department will always needs more staff and more programming, especially if the population continues to grow.

Moving forward, the committee will focus on the four priorities it identified Tuesday. Once the committee presents the focus to the commissioners, the commissioners will decide whether to hire a consultant to help with the process moving forward. The commissioners will also have to arrange for a feasibility study before any construction project, either remodeling the current jail or building a new one, can begin. A new state law that went into affect July 1 requires counties to complete a feasibility study on all jail projects. The study must look at topics such as staffing, locations and alternatives to incarceration. The county can also add topics to the study such as community corrections and therapy programs. Commissioner Chad Blessinger, who is on the committee, shared a packet about the state’s requirements with committee members.

“Regardless of what we decide is best for our county,” he said, “this is what we’re going to have to do.”

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