The creation of a community-based, residential treatment facility was one of several recommendations made from a study of the county’s criminal justice system.
The study completed by the University of Cincinnati examined alternatives to reducing the number of inmates in the county jail and address the amount of recidivism (number of repeat offenders).
The Dubois County Community Foundation funded the study in response to the county’s decision to pursue enlarging the jail, community corrections and moving the judicial offices from the courthouse to a separate facility as recommended by the architectural firm RQAW. RQAW’s recommendations are based on the antiquated design and the overcrowding of the jail.
However, the foundation felt there may be other alternatives to pursue in addition to increasing the holding capacity.
“Our strategic plan charges us to be a leader, addressing social needs in our community,” Foundation board president Mark Balsmeyer told commissioners. “Through many community conversations, we continue to hear of the challenges our community faces. We watch nonprofits struggle with resources and capacity to address issues such as food insecurity, mental health and substance abuse. We also heard that more information was needed and welcomed by our decision-makers and elected officials to make better-informed decisions for our county, and to better understand our criminal justice system more holistically.”
Balsmeyer told the commission he hoped they would use the information from the University of Cincinnati report in addition to the RQAW information to address the future needs of the county.
Dr. Brian Lovins of the University of Cincinnati’s Corrections Institute provided the key takeaways of the study. He outlined ways the county could reduce the time people spend in jail and increase the likelihood of positive outcomes for those offenders with mental health or substance abuse issues.
A copy of the study is included at the link in the bottom of this article.
He recommended the county should advocate for the creation of a residential facility.
“Providing community-based, residential facilities allows for integration into the community a lot easier,” said Lovins.
He pointed out that the jail was not the place to provide treatment options. He explained jails are the place to hold people who are dangerous and to exact punishment on the back end.
“The place for behavioral health services is not in the jail,” he said.
He added that jails cannot utilize state and federal dollars to provide treatment services, whereas a community-based facility could. “So you’re not putting the bill for all the medical issues and all the drug issues in the jail,” he said.
According to Lovins, the facility would be an opportunity for a public-private partnership that all the of mental health providers and services could use as part of their services; not just a county-based system for residents convicted of crimes.
Lovins also recommended expanding the scope of pretrial services, developing a public defender’s office, expanding pre-arrest and prosecutorial diversion programs, and expanding community corrections programming.
The main goal was to address low-level offenders in a way that mediated the risk of recidivism. By streamlining the process through the use of pretrial and diversion services, offenders spend less time in jail and subsequently have a better opportunity to keep their jobs, get services they need and continue to provide for their families.
In addition to Lovins’ report, the community foundation contracted services with Lena Hackett of Community Solutions. Hacket and Community Solutions will help the county leaders and volunteer partners to work through a solution and action plan to address these needs in the community.
“Our job is to really hold the process and move it to action,” Hackett said. “So take all of this studying and talking you guys have been engaged in for a very long time, and move it to action.”
Hackett told commissioners it would be a seven-month process that would begin in March. Through that process, the partners would come together to examine Dubois County’s unique needs and provide an action plan.