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Community starts talking about detention, treatment center

By TRAVIS WEIK - tweik@thecouriertimes.com

“Jail” is a four-letter word in Henry County.

Commissioner Kim Cronk led a conversation Tuesday night in the courthouse about the county’s need for a new detention and treatment center.

Over the past 40 years, the jail has not kept up with the needs of the county.

Sheriff Ric McCorkle said the current jail opened in 1979 and was designed to hold 76 people. As of Tuesday morning, there were 225 people housed there, McCorkle said.

“You’re talking about a building that never sleeps,” McCorkle said. “Nobody’s going to take care of it for us. We have to take care of it ourselves.”

The current Henry County Jail is also the subject of an ongoing federal lawsuit. McCorkle said Henry County needs to continue to show forward progress toward a new facility; otherwise, the federal judge could take control of the project away from local taxpayers.

“I truly believe that we have managed to stay ahead of this thing,” McCorkle said.

Progress so far

Jail overcrowding is not a new problem in Henry County.

Commissioner Butch Baker started looking for answers to the jail’s problems in 2013 when he was still sheriff. Baker helped organize a committee to assess the state of Henry County’s entire criminal justice system.

It wasn’t until 2016 that Henry County was able to raise enough money through the public safety local income tax (LIT) to fund a comprehensive review of the jail. Preliminary results of that study were released this summer, but the final study has not come back yet.

According to the preliminary study, Henry County needs to either build a new facility or drastically renovate the current jail to meet needs of the community.

McCorkle said detention centers are no longer just about housing inmates. They are about providing safety and treatment for citizens who might be suffering from addictions or who have untreated mental health issues.

The sheriff pointed out that most of the people current housed in Henry County Jail haven’t even been convicted of the crimes they’ve been charged with; they just can’t afford bail. Those people are innocent until proven guilty and deserve to be treated that way, McCorkle said.

“It’s a big picture and it’s something we have to look at as a big picture,” he said.

Involving the community

Cronk emphasized Tuesday that no decisions have been made and this is the very start of the conversation.

More than two dozen people attended Tuesday’s meeting at the Henry County Courthouse to give input on the new facility. The audience was composed of concerned citizens, former law enforcement officers, building architects, city and county officials, educators and economic development professionals.

Cronk organized five different committees to address different needs of the overall facility development process. He asked everyone in the audience to pick one committee where their skills and backgrounds might be the most beneficial.

“We can’t leave the community out,” Cronk said.

The different committees are designed to look at alternatives to incarceration, educational planning, a new inmate classification system, public relations and communications and developing a master plan.

Drug treatment

Jerry Cash is coordinating the committee that will look at alternatives to incarceration.

Cash’s focus is on finding new ways to help people who have substance abuse problems besides just locking them in jail. If the county decides to build a new facility, there needs to be some component that offers drug treatment, Cash said.

Cash is part of the New Castle-Henry County HOPE Initiative. The HOPE Initiative started a conversation three years ago to combat drug abuse in Henry County. That conversation has included law enforcement, medical and treatment professionals, judicial leaders and families of drug addicts.

The HOPE Initiative talks led to the recent formation of the LIVE Coalition. Cash plans to include LIVE in the conversations about the new rehabilitation facility.

“The more people that can give input on this, the better off we are,” Cash said.

Cash’s committee will meet again at 7 p.m. Oct. 23 in the HOPE Initiative Building, 1426 Broad St., New Castle. To be involved in that committee, email jwcash@frontier.com.

Educational training

Henry County volunteer Olene Veach is in charge of the group looking at education. A big part of that group’s focus includes a discussion about drugs, as well.

The committee will look at what would be ideal for a facility and what would be available to provide classes and training.

“We’re looking beyond just strictly the inmates,” Veach said. “Addiction doesn’t just affect the individual in jail. It affects their families and kids, too.”

Veach hopes to include recovering addicts in the research and people who work with families and children from addicted homes.

“We have lousy facilities for substance abuse treatment or education,” Veach said. “The facility was not built for any education...we’ve never had the space.”

Veach said a remodeled or brand new center should also support inmate re-entry by developing life skills, like filing out job applications, money management and filling out an apartment lease. She also wants to have anger management classes to further help people who end up at the facility.

Master plan

Jon Madison is coordinating a committee that will bring the work of the other groups together in one total package about the new facility.

“It’s an important thing. We’ve got to do it,” Madison said. “We can’t keep dancing around it. We’ve got to get a plan going.”

Any effort to move forward with a new facility will have details on location, costs, how taxpayers will fund it, how rehabilitation will work, what educational options will be provided and how the facility will deal with substance addiction and mental health issues.

“All that info has to be factored into a master plan,” Madison said. “It’s going to have to be very comprehensive.”

To get involved with developing the master plan, email jmadison@defur.com.

Corey Murphy of the New Castle-Henry County Economic Development Corporation has been placed in charge of public relations and communications, and Commissioner Butch Baker is looking at a new way to classify local inmates.

The Henry County Detention and Treatment Center Committee will meet again at 6 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 7 in the courthouse.