News From Terre Haute, Indiana

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November 14, 2013

Committee wants cost proposals on jail study

TERRE HAUTE — A Vigo County jail committee has requested a formal cost proposal from two independent consultants that will work together to study the entire justice system in Vigo County.

“We wanted something to look at the entire picture, not just building a new jail,” said Vigo County Commissioner President Judith Anderson.

The committee met Thursday with William Shepler, owner/founder of the Noblesville-based PMSI, which specializes in planning and management for capital development projects, and with Al Bennett, a consultant for planning, design and operations and president of Plainfield-based Bennett Associations.

Bill Watson, director of the Vigo County Community Corrections, said the need for an enlarged jail will be evident in the near future. Watson said state legislative changes included House Enrolled Act 1006, a revision of criminal codes, which will mean more detainees for the county. For example, the county will have to house people convicted of class-D felonies, Watson said, as the state will no longer hold those inmates.

“The jail has to have the capacity to handle whatever comes in the future,” Watson said. “Community Corrections can take a lot of people ... but not everyone is appropriate for community corrections.”

County Councilman Ed Ping said the committee is “determined we overbuild rather than underbuild, so people are not talking 20 years from now that we didn’t take care of this.”

Shepler said a review would take six to eight months and look at optimizing the county’s justice system. It would involve discussions with judges, a review of jail statistics such as offenses, population and inmates and also involve regular meetings of the jail committee.

He cautioned that the county cannot simply build a facility and think its concerns are finished.

“This is an ongoing process,” Shepler said. “You will not get done, not build a new jail and not add the sanctions that everyone wants and walk away from it and assume it is okay. Information keeps coming in and keeps changing.”

For example, Shepler said between 1994 and 1995, county jail populations statewide jumped about 35 percent because of legislation “that three strikes and you are out.” Shepler said House Enrolled Act 1006 has “the potential of doing the same thing.”

Chief Deputy Sheriff Clark Cottom said individual statistics, such as county population, do not equate to the jail’s population. Cottom said that while the county’s population has declined, its jail population has tripled. “When the jail opened, it was an 80-some bed facility, and now 300 is not enough, and here we are talking about building a 500- or 600-bed facility,” he said.

To emphasize a need for a larger jail, Cottom said the county currently has 4,000 unserved warrants.

“Unfortunately, when our jail is full, and we are paying for beds in other counties, we have to weigh those odds. Do we serve warrants? Where do we put our emphasis?” Cottom said. “We already write citations for shoplifting, people who used to come to the jail. We are really only keeping the people who need [to be] kept.”

David R. Reardin, a retired regional director for the Federal Bureau of Prisons and now a correctional management and litigation consultant, said he expects the consultants to suggest a 20- to 30-percent increase in the county’s jail size.

“This is a crisis in our country, not just our community,” Reardin said. “The state prison system is underbuilt and overcrowded and no longer able to accept people the court is sentencing, and [it] is passing legislation that [is requiring] the county to be responsible for their prisoners.

“The real challenge,” Reardin said, “is the lifetime cost of that jail and operating it. You don’t have enough manpower to run your jail right now ... and when you build more space, it will cost the county more to operate.”

Shepler suggested the county consider a maximum-security section and a medium-to-low security side of a facility. The county could build medium-security space at half the cost of maximum security, he said. The jail’s current 268-bed facility is a single maximum-security building.

Offenders of lesser crimes could be placed into an eight-person pod. The pods would be designed to female standards, which includes showers and toilets, enabling all the pods to house either men or women, without the need for separate pods, Shepler said.

In addition, classroom space could be added to each pod to allow more drug intervention services and programs to be provided at the jail, instead of scheduling inmates for services weeks away outside the jail.

John Roach, judge of Vigo County Superior Court Division 1, said that is one reason the county has many repeat offenders. People are released and scheduled to attend a drug intervention program 20 or more days into the future. However, many offenders get back into trouble before attending those programs, Roach said.

Reporter Howard Greninger can be reached at 812-231-4204 or howard. greninger@tribstar.com.

 

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