TERRE HAUTE — As state officials try to figure out how to solve Indiana’s prison population growth dilemma, a look at local data shows that Vigo County sends fewer people to prison than other similar sized counties.

The criminal justice system in Vigo County does a good job keeping low-level offenders out of the state’s overcrowded prisons, according to Bill Watson, director of Vigo County Community Corrections.

“We work hard at utilizing our programs,” he said of the work-release and in-home detention programs operating at the Community Corrections building near the Vigo County Courthouse.

Watson credited the county judges, prosecutors, public defenders and probation departments with working together on sentencing.

“The prosecutor’s office works really hard at getting the appropriate people to the DOC,” Watson said.

Prosecutor Terry Modesitt agrees that counties have to work on their own to alleviate jail and prison overcrowding problems as the state’s prisons fill up.

“Everybody in this county now has to take the attitude that we cannot send them [D felons] away to prison unless it’s something really bad, because with the jail overcrowding and the prison overcrowding, there just is not enough room,” Modesitt said. “We feel like we have to save those spaces for the ones that, we all agree, have to be sent away.”

Prison population is a hot topic at the Statehouse, with many leaders predicting that a new prison will have to be built if the inmate population continues to grow at its current rate.

Vigo County sent 176 people into the Department of Correction for the fiscal year running July 1, 2010, to June 30, 2011. Of those, only 55 were class-D felony sentences.

A committee looking at the class-D felony admissions to the DOC examined a year of figures ending this past August. Vigo County, with a population of 107,848, sent 70 D felons to state prison. Comparatively, tiny Wabash County with 32,888 residents sent 79 D felons to prison. Wayne County with 68,917 residents sent 290 D felons, ranking in the top 10 counties sending D felons to the DOC.

Vigo County’s community corrections program is designed to keep people living and working in their home community, while monitoring their activities and requiring accountability through drug and alcohol screenings and rehabilitative programs.

“We get a lot of people through here,” Watson said. “Our commitment rates [to the DOC] have pretty much gone down since they opened this facility.”
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