Wednesday night’s community workshop was all about community discussion.
Discussion about the state of the current jail. Discussion of a potential new detention and treatment facility. And discussion about alternatives to incarceration in Henry County.
Henry County is currently the subject of multiple lawsuits from past and current jail inmates. The jail is said to be overcrowded, and at least one man, Brian Gosser, allegedly died after sustaining injuries while housed there.
The Henry County Detention and Treatment Center joint committees formed to find a way to create suitable facilities to house Henry County inmates.
The consensus is that any solution will need to also address local substance abuse, specifically methamphetamine and alcohol usage, that continues to negatively impact Henry County communities.
The group is working to find options so elected officials will have an idea of how to move forward.
Wednesday’s meeting included city and county officials, law enforcement officers, mental health professionals, bail bondsmen and women, concerned residents who want to fix the problem and regular citizens who have been personally affected by addiction and incarcerations.
While many people are looking at what it would take to build a whole new facility, others are trying to figure out how to help Henry County now.
Master Plan Committee Coordinator Jon Madison said county leaders cannot wait much longer to make changes to the way they are doing things.
Madison estimated it could be 2026 before Henry County gets a new facility, if the county waits to renew current debt in five years.
“I don’t think 2026 is feasible to have a new building. It’s gotta be sooner than that,” Madison said.
Jennifer Christman, a criminal justice professor from Ball State University, agreed that even if Henry County had all the money they needed today, it would still take years to be build a new facility.
Jerry Cash, coordinator for the alternatives to incarceration committee, asked if there was any way the county could help relieve some of the pressure on the jail now.
One suggestion made Wednesday was that the Henry County Commissioners could just put a cap on the total number of inmates housed at Henry County Jail.
Commissioner Butch Baker, who is also a former sheriff, said that wouldn’t really solve the problems because the extra inmates would still have to be housed somewhere else and Henry County would still be paying for them.
“Everything comes at a cost,” Baker said.
Sheriff’s Major Jay Davis said the local criminal justice system could look into pre-trial releases as one option. Rather than holding people in jail until their court date, a judge could let them go home or be released with some form of supervision.
About 75 percent of the people currently in Henry County Jail haven’t been sentenced yet. Many of them have the option to post bail and get out until their court date, but cannot afford to bond out.
“It think that’s probably the most important piece maybe that we’re missing right now – some kind of pre-trial release monitoring here in Henry County,” Davis said. “There’s something we’re really missing here in Henry County. There’s only a handful of people out on pre-trial release and pre-trial release monitoring.”
Davis noted that several participants of the Henry County veterans court and drug court are on pre-trial release. He wondered if a process similar to that could be set up for the general public still being held in jail.
Davis pointed out that releasing people before their court date does not guarantee they will stay out of trouble.
As of Wednesday morning, 30 people were back in Henry County Jail because they were out and failed to show up to their court dates. Davis said a number of them also had new pending charges for additional crimes they allegedly committed after leaving jail.
Christman said there will always be some portion of the jail population that needs to stay incarcerated for public safety and to receive focused treatment.
Christman hopes her criminal justice students can help the people of Henry County undertake the monumental task before them.
“There are some real possibilities of us kind of shaking some stuff up with our students and doing some interesting and hard work with you guys,” Christman said. “But we also need to have some idea of what those long term goals are.”
Jim Cohen from Centerstone works with adult clients who are dealing with addiction. Cohen wants the committees and the Henry County community as a whole to address local drug issues as a way to help the jail.
“Intensive outpatient treatment is significantly cheaper than incarceration,” Cohen said.
Cohen acknowledged that Henry County does not currently have enough service providers to help everyone in the area who needs it.
Olene Veach, a long-time volunteer for the county, added that the addicts aren’t the only people affected by drugs; their families, children and neighbors are also touched by those addictions.
“If we really want to lick the problem, we have to figure out how to treat their kids,” Cohen said.
Cash and his committee are working to compile a comprehensive list of resources throughout Henry County offering support and treatment to people at risk of substance abuse.
The Henry County Purdue Extension office is also working on a similar endeavor. The Courier-Times regularly lists times and locations of Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous meetings in the Community Calendar.
Cash would also like to see more Henry County employers step forward to give job opportunities to recovering addicts and people with criminal records.
Cohen said teaching people life skills is one of the ways to truly help them recover from a life of addiction and subsequent criminal activity.
Henry County Commissioner Kim Cronk has been talking with neighboring counties about the possibility of building a regional detention center.
Cronk said the state requires feasibility studies on regional jails before a county can build a new facility for its residents
Cronk is also planning to meet with representatives from the GEO Group today about what services they might be able to provide. GEO runs the New Castle Correctional Facility. Cronk said they also manage 80 regional detention centers around the country.
Cronk told the committees there may also be some opportunities for state funding if Henry County is willing to serve as a model for other counties on building new detention and treatment facilities.
The next Henry County Detention and Treatment Joint Committee meeting is at 6 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 16 in the REMC Community Room, if it is available.