Dear Council President Loudermilk:

I very much appreciate your determination in seeking to resolve the county jail situation. As you said in your closing remarks last week, this issue has been punted down field by far too many of your predecessors on the council. We wouldn’t be in the fix we are now if they had addressed this issue years ago. I agree with you, we can’t avoid it any longer; the time has come to make a decision.

You went on to describe how DLZ’s original estimate of 528 beds has now been validated by RJS’ conclusion that 527 beds are needed. I want to draw your attention to page 63 of the RJS report, which I will here quote:

“Using primarily linear regression models of actuarial data and classification factors of 25 percent to 30 percent for bed need forecast estimates, [resulted in] two very rough bed need estimates of 421 and 462. Both of these estimates were based on a linear forecast of historical jail annual daily peak populations 2003-2017. Both estimates included classification capacity of approximately 25 percent to 30 percent, which is atypically high. The 421-bed estimate was calculated to the year 2035. In June 2018, county officials requested a forecast to the year 2050 to accommodate a 30-year facility life cycle. The 2050 forecast estimated a total bed capacity of 462. Both of these initial rough estimates were incomplete for two primary reasons. First, bed capacity forecasting typically excludes temporary intake/overflow capacity because those beds are not designed for long-term incarceration as are primary custody beds. County officials requested we add this capacity to our Total Capacity forecast for construction and operating cost estimating purposes. Secondly, the annual daily peak data provided are used by jail [sic] for the purposes of managing overcrowding. Those numbers do not account for male and female peaks independently. Despite the likelihood that male and female peaks would occur on the same day is di minimis, the fact remains that jail capacity must accommodate peaks for both male and female populations independently to ensure adequate capacity for each gender independent of the other. Our Total Capacity now incorporates annual peaks for each gender by adding those peaks together for a combined annual daily peaking factor.”

I would like to point out several problematic features in the above section. First, Dr. Ray’s estimate was 421 beds calculated to 2035 and 462 calculated to 2050. He added to those estimates at the request of “county officials.” If Dr. Ray was hired to do an independent assessment then we should only consider those 421 and 462 estimates that he arrived at on his own. Second, Dr. Ray admits that the likelihood of male and female peaks occurring on the same day is di minimis. To add extra beds for such an extraordinary occurrence does not strike me as a sufficient reason to expand the facility’s bed size. If the planets miraculously align and somehow our male and female peaks occur on the same day then let’s reach an agreement with a jail in a neighboring county to hold these prisoners for a day or two.

Dr. Ray’s original, independent estimates of 421 and 462 do not correspond to DLZ’s 528 estimate. Jon Marvel mentioned that the 2005 NIC study also validated DLZ’s bed size findings. This study does not include an estimate of the number of beds needed in the jail. He also mentioned a fourth study, which I had not previously heard of and has not, I believe, been shared with the public.

Dr. Ray, much to his credit, describes on page 62, the inherent dangers in long-term jail bed forecasting. He includes in the report a long quote from an article that concludes that county bed jail forecasting is “empirically valid for, at best, one or two years.” To suggest that we can arrive at an accurate number of beds we will need 32 years from now is folly, akin, perhaps, to predicting who will win the World Series in 2050. Still, we must do something. As you said, we can’t avoid the issue any longer.

It is clear that the people do not want a mega-jail, one, that would be the biggest, proportionately, in the entire state. We are a poor county with a declining population, if we ever hope to turn things around here then we need to make this an appealing place to live, a place where young people might want to settle down. And that means we need good schools. How can we have first-rate high schools and a mega-jail too? We can’t.

I implore you not to undermine the future of the county without considering alternatives to a 527-bed facility. Perhaps we can initially build a smaller jail that could be expanded later. The DLZ pod design allowed for the addition of extra pods as needed. Or only fund a jail at $35 million with the remaining funds allocated to an aggressive program of developing alternatives to incarceration and initiating improvements in expediting the processing of our prisoners and court cases.

In the article Dr. Ray quoted, the authors state that long-term county jail bed forecasting is ultimately more about the will of the community than it is about arriving at an accurate number of beds needed in a distant future. This figure tells us more about how the community sees itself and how it envisages its future than anything else.

Is this how we see ourselves, as the community that will have, proportionately, the biggest jail in the state? Whose answer to the high number of CHINS and juvenile delinquents we have is to add to our estimate of jail beds so that we will eventually be able to incarcerate them as adults?

The Citizens for Better Government can help you and the other members of the council explore alternatives to a 527-bed jail. I bet a lot of other community members would too. A mega-jail is not the only choice.

— Brian Bunnett, Terre Haute

Trending Video