News From Terre Haute, Indiana

Local & Bistate

May 20, 2014

Vigo County Community Corrections director agrees with dropping out of Federal program

TERRE HAUTE — The director of the Vigo County Community Corrections program agrees with a state-level decision to decline to become  compliant with the federal Prison Rape Elimination Act.

It’s a funding issue, not a safety issue for inmates, according to director Bill Watson, since the facility already has anti-rape policies and practices in place.

“If we had to get compliant with PREA, then we would probably have had to shut down,” Watson told the Tribune-Star on Monday. “The money it costs to get compliant would have cost the state more money than what they get from the federal government.”

VCCC receives funding from the Indiana Department of Correction, and therefore must be compliant with state DOC regulations. The DOC already complies with the safety and reporting guidelines of PREA, Watson said, but the federal act requires costly inspections and visitations, in addition to increased staffing, modification of facilities, extensive training and security upgrades.

“I was truly concerned about our ability to meet those requirements because of the cost prohibitions for us,” Watson said. “We meet all the policies and procedures already.”

In the past eight years, Watson said, the facility has had only one reported incident of sexual abuse in the facility. That incident was investigated by the Vigo County Sheriff’s Department and a criminal case was filed against the suspect.

Watson said he will not be surprised if many governors around the nation also decline to adopt the PREA standards, as Gov. Mike Pence has indicated he will do. Watson said he would have had to hire one new staff member to be assigned full-time to PREA compliance.

Meanwhile, upgrades in surveillance cameras and monitoring of internal activities have helped staff at the Vigo County Jail reduce sex abuse among inmates in the facility.

To be 100 percent compliant with the federal Prison Rape Elimination Act — which requires state prisons and county jails who hold state prisoners to adopt aggressive anti-rape policies and practices in their facilities — would be a very costly venture for the local facility, Vigo jail commander Charlie Funk told the Tribune-Star.

“Additional cameras and storage space is a big cost,” Funk said, noting that the jail has already made numerous upgrades to its camera system in recent months.

A requirement to report any incidents to an outside agency is also a concern, he said. Whenever an inmate incident or complaint is reported in the jail, the detectives in the sheriff’s department investigate.

There is a reporting system that is being developed, Funk said. Last year, only one incident of sex abuse was reported, and that was determined to be unfounded, he said. One attempted incident of abuse has been reported this year, he said.

Sheriff Greg Ewing said the PREA issue has been of concern to Hoosier sheriffs because of the cost prohibitive requirements for facilities. In addition to hiring more staff, many jails would have to make costly modifications to the facility to comply.

Ewing said the Vigo County Jail is usually at inmate capacity most of the time due to local arrests, so the facility is not contracted to house state or federal inmates.

The jail has established policies and procedures on handling sex abuse that are included in the training of jail staff, he said.

Reporter Lisa Trigg can be reached at 812-231-4254 or lisa.trigg@tribstar.com. Follow her on Twitter @TribStarLisa.

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