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Detention center task force to meet

By TRAVIS WEIK - tweik@thecouriertimes.com

The Henry County Detention and Treatment Facility Task Force will meet at 6 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 5, at Henry County REMC to discuss progress and needs of the individual committees.

One way to fix an overcrowded jail is to stop adding people who haven’t been convicted of anything yet.

That’s a possibility the Henry County “alternatives to incarceration” committee is looking at.

The volunteer group is made up of elected officials and local community members.

Together with several other committees, the Alternatives to Incarceration is researching ways to make the Henry County Jail a safer place for both inmates and jail employees.

Reducing the number of people going to jail is a complex topic. 

Logically, if fewer people break the law, fewer people will go to jail. So the committee is looking at ways to get Henry County residents away from drug abuse, a repeated theme in many arrests.

Another option would be to shorten the jail stays of people who are still waiting for trial.

In September 2017, more than half of all Indiana jail inmates were in “pretrial” status.

As of Monday, 136 people in the Henry County jail and transition center – 72 percent of all local inmates – were still waiting to go before the judge and plead their cases.

Most are still in jail because they cannot afford bail.

Several Indiana counties are currently releasing some low-risk arrestees without bail if they pass a risk-assessment.

The Henry County Alternatives to Incarceration Committee said the “gold standard” for an effective bonding system can be found in Porter County, one of those counties involved in the state’s jail reform pilot program.

Under this program, the pilot counties use the Indiana Risk Assessment System Pretrial Assessment Tool (IRAS-PAT) to look at an arrestee’s criminal history, employment, housing stability, drug use and out-of-state criminal records.

Depending on the seriousness of the offense and assessed risk, judges decide if offenders are released on supervision or held in jail with a bail amount until their next trial.

The new program is designed to make sure people who are supposed to be in jail stay there, while people who possibly committed a low-level offense can get back to their lives until their court dates.

Henry County advocates also hope to identify local employers willing to provide jobs to Level 5 or 6 offenders. Having a stable job helps lower the chances those individuals will wind up back in jail.

Other resources

At the same time they are looking at bail reform, the Henry County Alternatives to Incarceration Committee is working on a comprehensive community resource list. 

This list will show people where they can get help with substance abuse and mental health, adult education, food and clothing, housing and utilities, medical and mental care and child care.

Addressing these life needs can help catch people before they do something that gets them arrested in the first place and thrown in jail.

The Alternatives to Incarceration Committee also heard from Ball State University professor Dr. Jennifer Christman about how her criminal justice students could help with research and data analysis.

The committee also wants more communication with other community groups working to solve the Henry County Jail issue.

They’ve asked for presentations from the Henry County Sheriff’s Department, the prosecutor’s office, county judges, probation, community corrections and the Department of Child Services.

By getting information from subject matter professionals, the task force hopes to gain a better understanding of what is already in place in Henry County and where there are gaps.

Community members had planned a trip to Columbus, Ohio last month so locals could see a new state-of-the-art detention center.

The trip was cancelled due to winter weather. Henry County Commissioner Kim Cronk said the trip has not been rescheduled.

Commissioner Cronk has been in contact with Fayette County leaders about the possibility of building a multi-county jail, as well. Henry County officials have also discussed the idea with Hancock County law enforcement.

The Henry County Detention and Treatment Facility task force invites the public to attend the next meeting at 6 p.m., Wednesday, Dec. 5 at the Henry County REMC, 3400 S. Ind. 3.

The Henry County Commissioners and Henry County Council will be attending. No official business will take place at the meeting.