Petition circulates opposing downtown jail optionJuly 8, 2019
By CANDY NEAL
JASPER — Downtown businesses plan to let the county know that they are against placing the county jail in downtown Jasper.
A petition has been circulating among the businesses, stating that they are against placing the jail at the Old National Bank building at Sixth and Mill streets.
“If the jail ends up at the Old National Bank building, it will affect all the businesses downtown, and of course, all of our community close by,” said Maureen Braun, a member of the Greater Downtown Jasper Business Association and owner of Finishing Touches.
“I wanted to be sure to be transparent, that we are against that location, and wanted to make it known, not only for the businesses but all for the community,” she said.
The Dubois County Commissioners are currently looking at two options for expanding the jail facility, a duty mandated by the Indiana Department of Correction to address overcrowding issues at the current security center.
The Old National option would include adding a building on the east side of the site for the jail beds and a parking garage on the west side; the Old National building would also be renovated and used for administrative offices, and the current community corrections facility would still be expanded. The cost for this option is estimated at $50.8 million.
The other option is to expand on property near the current security center on Brucke Strasse. This $43.1 million option includes remodeling the current facility; adding on a building that will increase the number of beds at the jail pod to between 244 and 270 beds; expanding the community corrections facility; adding surface parking; and adding a building that would house the courts and a connector between the courts facility and jail.
The suggestions came from RQAW, the Indianapolis-based company that conducted a study to determine the needs of the security center and to offer suggested solutions.
The study concluded that Dubois County’s jail facility should have between 244 and 270 beds to keep up with the need for the next 20 years, and that the other departments in the county’s justice system, particularly the courts and community corrections, could also use additional space.
The commissioners have not yet accepted the study. Once they do accept it officially, they will consider their next steps for solving the jail’s overcrowding issues, which could include implementing one of the options.
Braun has been circulating the petition discouraging the Old National location on behalf of the business association. She said that she may approach other businesses outside of the immediate downtown area before submitting it to county officials.
“It’s disappointing that it’s gotten to this point. And I wanted to be sure that it is known that we’re not in favor of that location at all,” she said. “I mean, there was an inmate that got loose in the last month, running around in our downtown streets until the police did get the person. Those kinds of things don’t make customers and [the] general public feel safe.”
Her concern extends beyond businesses.
“I feel strongly about not having it there because of the residents, the people who live there, whose kids ride bikes,” she said. “Just think of the housing there. If the jail goes there, nobody will want to buy a house there ... It’s kind of the beginning of vacant areas, after we’ve tried so hard to fill things up. That’s our concern, also.”
Braun plans to send the commissioners and Dubois County Council members the petition and a cover letter explaining why businesses disagree with the proposed downtown site.
“We’ve worked about 40 years to make the downtown walkable,” she said. “We’ve worked hard to get people to eat outdoors at restaurants. We worked hard to get connections between public places. This goes against everything, even what the city was planning in its long-range plan.
“It’s not just about the businesses. It’s about the community,” Braun said “It’s not the right location.”
The commissioners will hold another public hearing about the study and its conclusions, which include the two location options, at its next meeting. The hearing is set for 8 a.m. Monday, July 15, in the commissioners/council room, on the second floor of the Dubois County Courthouse Annex, 602 Main St., Jasper.