Latest justice proposal gets favorable response

By CANDY NEAL
cneal@dcherald.com

A new preliminary idea for improving the jail and criminal justice facilities is one several Dubois County officials expressed favorable interest in Thursday afternoon.

RQAW, the firm hired to do a feasibility study about the county’s justice system, proposed an idea of adding a building for justice departments near the current community corrections and security center buildings on Brucke Strasse. The idea would be to purchase a lot just south of the corrections building for the justice center. County Commissioner Chad Blessinger shared the design with commissioners and county council members who met Thursday to discuss potential funding options for improving the county’s justice system.

Many of the officials seemed to like this idea better than the other two that were presented last month.

RQAW’s study is looking mainly at the security center’s shortcomings, which include overcrowding. County officials started looking into the matter after receiving a notice about the problem from the Indiana Department of Correction in 2017. A state law that went into effect in 2018 requires a feasibility study be done before any new construction or remodeling can be done to a jail facility. The study must consider the needs of a facility, including size, location, staff and alternatives to incarceration.

At a March 21 meeting, RQAW presented two ideas for the security center. One was adding a building southeast of the current security center that would hold the 250 to 300 beds and renovating the current security center. The other was buying the Old National Bank property at Mill and Sixth streets and adding a three-story jail pod just east of the building. RQAW also suggested the community corrections facility could be expanded to the south to add more beds for participants and administrative space for the staff.

Officials admitted Thursday it would be a big challenge to move the security center to the Old National site. Blessinger said he spoke with Jasper officials, and they are not in favor of the idea. And since there would likely need to be zoning exemptions from the city, that makes the idea even more difficult, he said.

“Putting that on the bank site will be a tough sell,” Councilman Mike Kluesner said.

But since the bank is willing to consider selling the building to the county, “let’s just wait and see where all the costs lie,” Commissioner Elmer Brames said. “I agree that it would be hard.”

He and Commissioner Nick Hostetter said all options, including the almost-impossible ones, should be kept on the table for now.

County officials discussed funding options, including using about $9 million in cash reserves. Those reserves have about $12 million, but officials said some reserves need to be retained for county operations and potential emergencies. All the officials said they would rather use funding the county has on hand first before pursuing a corrections/rehab local income tax that the state has made available for security center improvements.

But based on estimates, the high-end estimate for making improvements — adding a jail pod that can house 300 inmates, making renovations to the current security and community corrections centers and adding a justice facility — is about $19 million. That means, Blessinger deduced, a $10 million bond would be needed. Based on information financial representatives Baker Tilly (formerly known as Umbaugh & Associates) gave at Thursday’s meeting, a 20-year bond at that amount would cost the county $750,000 per year to pay back.

Dana Wood, continuous quality improvement specialist for three of the county’s justice offices, mentioned that more research needs to be done into why people are in jail, to see if other things can be done to help keep them out of jail. Wood’s position is funded by a state grant.

“We need to look at the root cause of the overcrowding,” she said. “Those questions haven’t been asked.”

Councilwoman Becky Beckman, who asked about treatment services for those who might have addiction problems, agreed. She was under the impression that those questions would be answered and treatment options would be a part of the study. Sheriff Tom Kleinhelter has said more treatment services will be implemented once the security center has the space to do so, Blessinger said.

In another matter, the commissioners told the four council members in attendance — Beckman, Kluesner, Charmian Klem and Craig Greulich — they would need about $230,000 to pay for consultants on the project. That includes $15,000 for a property owner representative, $15,000 for RQAW, $120,000 for bond counsel and $80,000 for financial advisors. The council has already appropriated $100,000 for the jail study. The council members consented to advertising another $150,000, which will be considered by the full council at its April 22 meeting.




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