As Vigo County residents and officials consider replacement of the overcrowded Vigo County Jail, the Indiana Attorney General urges close examination of who is now in the jail and why.
When Curtis Hill spoke to the Terre Haute Rotary Club on Tuesday, he said a new jail may be a necessity if the jail’s offender population is mostly violent and chronic offenders.
Those are the people who should be locked up to keep society safe, Hill said. If 90 percent of the offenders are violent or have multiple prior convictions – the average state prisoner has five criminal convictions – then the jail is probably too small, he said.
A former Elkhart County prosecutor who has been attorney general for nine months, Hill said it is his opinion that people have become less accountable for their own actions and are blaming “the system” for their woes.
Reform movements that have reduced sentences for some crimes – such as drug offenses – in an effort to reduce prison overcrowding are not keeping the public safe, Hill said.
“It doesn’t really address the nature of what happens, or what they do,” he said of the crimes that result in arrests.
A long-term fix is to change the lives of children in a community, Hill said.
Children in families without fathers, with social and economic disadvantages, and with parents who are unemployed or under-employed face more challenges and are more likely to end up in prison, he said.
Indiana’s drug abuse and addiction issues are another contributor to bleak futures for children.
“We have a big, big problem and it’s going to get worse when it comes to substance abuse,” Hill said.
While heroin and the opioid epidemic is getting a lot of attention now, the state still has “a methamphetamine problem that would choke a horse.”
And labeling drugs such as K2 or Spice as “synthetic marijuana” downplays the danger of the chemicals in those drugs, which are far more deadly than marijuana.
Addressing the problems that drive people to addictions is necessary in the battle against illegal drugs, he said.
“It is not an issue of locking people up,” he said. “We have to look at what causes people to choose that lifestyle.”
He also took issue with the state’s syringe exchange program. An exchange, he said, sounds like a person must turn in one needle to get a clean needle and reduce the spread of communicable diseases such as HIV and hepatitis.
But there is not a one-for-one exchange, Hill said. More than 120,000 clean syringes were given out than were turned in. That, he said, creates more opportunities for overdoses and death.
Comprehensive solutions such as law enforcement, treatment options and prevention must work together, he said.
But looking ahead to the future, Hill said, means having a positive impact and intervention for today’s children.
“It really relates to what we do with 12-year-old kids,” Hill said. “Something happens between 12 and 18. We lose them. We have to figure out what’s happening.”
Lack of a father figure who encourages and mentors a youth can be part of the problem, he said, because a drug dealer or gang leader is likely to fill that need for a young boy.
Instead, he encouraged the Rotary members to become the people who fill the needs of those children.