Public weighs in on justice system options

By CANDY NEAL
cneal@dcherald.com

Comments at Monday evening’s hearing on the county’s justice study varied.

Although 40 people attended the meeting, held at Jasper City Hall, only a handful of people spoke. They questioned the number of beds needed, treatment options for inmates and how the construction would be funded.

The Dubois County Commissioners want to know the public’s opinion of the study’s findings. The findings do not mean the county has made a decision on addressing the problems, Commissioner Chad Blessinger said.

“Nothing is concrete,” he said. “We are here to listen.”

See the justice system study summary here.

Click here to see the entire justice system study.

Sanjay Patel, the RQAW architect who facilitated the study, presented a summary of the study, which makes many projections based on current trends. The study projects that the county’s population by 2038 — 20 years from now — will be 50,000. The study includes the county’s 2017 population count as estimated by the U.S. Census, which is 42,558.

In the study, the county’s jail capacity is compared to jails in six counties with population totals close to Dubois County. Dubois County’s security center currently has 84 beds, which, compared to the county’s population, equates to 1.97 beds per 1,000 people. DeKalb County, whose population is 40,285, has 105 beds in its jail, which equates to 2.6 beds per 1,000 people. Jackson County, whose population is 44,013, has 248 beds in its facility, which equates to 5.65 beds per 1,000 people.

Patel said some of the counties listed may have newer facilities, which would contribute to its higher bed count. As a rule of thumb, he said, a county should have 4.5 beds per 1,000 people.

Based on the information, Patel said Dubois County’s jail facility should have between 244 and 270 beds to keep up with the need for the next 20 years. He said many factors contribute to the need, including the increase in drug-related crimes, the increase in the female inmate population, the insufficient amount of treatment programming available to inmates, and the state’s decision to not house certain felons in state facilities, thus leaving counties to house the felons themselves.

The average daily population in the county’s jail and the average length of stay have been steadily increasing, Patel explained. The projected length of stay as of 2038 is 73 days, which is one of the points Jasper resident Kurt Leinenbach did not agree with.

Leinenbach, who is a prosecutor at the Daviess County Prosecutor’s office, pointed out a new state law that will be enacted July 1 that stipulates that the Indiana Department of Correction will start housing certain Level 6 offenders again.

With the number of felonies decreasing, he said, “felonies are what we keep in jail.”

Also, he said, expanding the community corrections program would eliminate the wait list for that program. People who are waiting to get into the community corrections program typically are housed at the jail until a bed opens up at community corrections.

“This would make things more efficient. So the average length of stay won’t be as high,” he said. “Those things were not taken in account when considering average length of stay.”

Leinenbach doesn’t believe the facility needs to be as big. “I think 200 beds is plenty,” he said. His concern is that if there are a large number of beds available, the system will look to fill them instead of looking at alternatives for offenders.

The study gives two options to address the justice system’s problems.

One 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.

Another option is to use the Old National site at Sixth and Mill streets. This 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 is would be $50.8 million.

“This is really in the design process,” Patel said. “The numbers will be refined as process goes on.”

Blessinger said other places were considered, such as the Jasper Manor Shopping Center area and Fifth Street Elementary, which will be open once the students move to the new elementary school. The county also considered building a completely new facility on a new site.

“These options are the two that stood out more than the others,” he said.

As far as operations, Patel said no new staff would have to be added initially. But over the next 20 years, an additional nine staff members would be needed, he said. That would increase the jail’s operating expense from the current $2.4 million to $3.4 million by 2038, he projected.

Jasper resident John Bottorff said the county needs to be focused on treatment for offenders who have addiction and mental health problems.

“Rehabilitation needs to be the focus, he said. “We need to focus on helping them move forward.”

If that isn’t part of the solution, “the problem is going to continue to cycle: putting them in jail, having them sit there and letting them back out, it’s just going to repeat over and over and over again,” Bottorff said. “We should focus on helping people.”

Many members of the study committee have said the same. But it was determined that a committee of professionals in the area of treatment needs to be formed to determine what kind of treatment should be implemented at the security center. That study is independent of the jail’s capacity determination. But space must be constructed in the jail for future treatment services, Patel has said.

Ferdinand resident Max Leffert asked about funding for the construction costs. He said revenue from the local income tax, previously known as the economic development income tax, should be used.

“At the end of the time that the [current] jail was paid off, it was supposed to have been rescinded. It’s still here,” he said. “Draw off of that to take care of this new jail.”

His concern is with adding another tax, which the state recently created for counties to use for jail facilities.

“If you put another tax on,” Leffert said, “it will never go off.”

The Dubois County Council is looking at the new tax as an option, but wants to hear from the public first. A hearing concerning this will be at 6 p.m. Monday in the commissioners/council room on the second floor of the Dubois County Courthouse Annex, 602 Main St., Jasper.




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