Larger security center recommended for county

By CANDY NEAL
cneal@dcherald.com

Dubois County needs to build a security center that can house 250 to 300 inmates, expand its community corrections center and determine if it is financially beneficial to construct a judicial center.

The committee charged with studying the county’s criminal system also told the Dubois County Commissioners Monday that the county should also consider the possibility of the current security center being used for other purposes.

“We have to put our thinking caps on and be progressive,” said Gil Eckerle, the leader of the committee. “We need to have something that works for decades from now.”

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 addiction and mental or emotional issues. A 16-member committee formed as a response to the NIC assessment and quickly identified recidivism as an area of focus, in addition to jail overcrowding.

The committee suggested Monday that a security center for up to 300 inmates be built with 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 if inmates are getting substance abuse or behavioral treatment.

State law requires that a feasibility study by a professional firm must be done to determine the details of such a facility.

The committee also determined that community corrections should be expanded to accommodate more qualifying offenders and programming and treatment services should also be expanded at both facilities.

Repurposing the current security center should also be done if economically possible, the committee suggested. It might be possible to use it to expand community corrections, or to house other justice departments, like the probation department or the prosecutor’s office, Eckerle said.

Having a judicial or justice center may be an option for housing all justice-related departments, including the courts in one location, the committee said in its recommendation. This could address security and other issues with having justice facilities in the Dubois County Courthouse. Security issues should be discussed in a private meeting, the committee wrote in its recommendation.

But the immediate needs are the expansion of the security and community corrections center and their treatment services.

“The inmate population is growing,” Eckerle said. “And we have requirements to take care of individual needs.”

Eckerle mentioned that the female inmate population has grown, and that needs to be addressed in expansion plans.

The commissioners decided to get a written list of qualifications from companies that can conduct the feasibility study for a new security center. They and interested members of the justice system study committee will look over those to see which companies the commissioners want to consider and interview.

Also at Monday’s commissioners meeting:

Sheriff Donny Lampert told the commissioners about the increase in the female inmate population Monday, a few hours earlier than the committee’s presentation. He said the female section is full and there are females being housed in holding cells.

“We are seeing a major increase in female inmates. It’s happening across the state,” Lampert said, “and they are staying longer than before.”

The inmate population at the center totaled 114 Monday morning. “We may have to use the library as a holding cell,” Lampert said, “which is the best we can do.”

The recreation areas can’t be used because there is no access to restroom facilities from the areas, he explained.

Lampert also said that handling the large population and the mandates to transport inmates from the jail to the courthouse requires all staff to be present. When someone is out sick or on vacation, the shortfall is felt. He said that adding a deputy for each shift would help.

“They are making it work,” Lampert said of his current staff. “The question is how long can they make that happen? There will come a point that they can’t do it anymore. They are at their wit’s end.”

On Monday deputies had to take 19 people to the courthouse for hearings: 10 of those are on new charges, and some of them are repeat offenders, Lampert noted.

Because of the large number of cases that are in the county’s court system, County Prosecutor Anthony Quinn requested an additional deputy prosecutor and additional administrative staff member be added to his office.

“It’s come to point that we are constantly in court,” he told the commissioners, “and we can’t give each case the diligence it needs.”

In his first year in office, 2015, the department processed 967 cases. So for in 2018, 735 cases have been processed. At this pace, Quinn said, the department will deal with more than 1,500 cases by the end of the year.

“I was hopeful that numbers would start leveling off or decreasing,” Quinn said. “But the recent trend is showing significant increases. And we are not doing anything different in 2015 then 2018.”

All the commissioners agreed to create a deputy prosecutor position; they wanted to discuss the need for the additional administrative staff member. Quinn has proposed funding for both positions in his 2019 budget, which will be reviewed by the Dubois County Council on Monday. To add a new position to a department, the commissioners must create the position and the council must approve the funding.




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