By Martin Slagter Kokomo Tribune
---- — Howard County’s former jail is one step closer to becoming a work release center.
The Howard County Board of Commissioners approved a contract between its community corrections department and engineering firm DLZ to design a floor plan for a work release center using the former Howard County jail site, which has been vacant for about four years. The site was occupied by the Kokomo Academy juvenile care and detention facility from 1996 to 2010.
The $5,000 contract is being paid for by the community corrections department. If reopening the facility is feasible, Howard County Director of Adult Community Corrections Ray Tetrault estimated the program could be up and running as early as January 2015.
DLZ should have a floor plan ready for the facility within a couple of months.
The former jail, which could house up to 120 beds, seems like it could be a good option for a work release program, Tetrault said.
“I’m hopeful that we can use that building,” he said. “It would be very cost effective for the citizens of Howard County, because it wouldn’t cost us much to have it up and running.
“The building is in fairly decent shape,” he added. “There are a few cosmetic things and the heating and air conditioning isn’t up to today’s standards. I think the facility can be used, though.”
After Cedarbridge Treatment Centers closed the juvenile care and detention facility, ownership reverted back to Howard County.
The facility would house people who have been convicted of “lower risk” crimes, Tetrault said, in three separate pods in the two-floor facility, fitting up to 40 beds in each area. Forty of the beds would be reserved for women.
The Indiana Department of Corrections indicated it would pay Howard County $1,000 a day to house up to 40 inmates in a work release center.
Tetrault said all potential work release candidates would be screened to determine suitability for placement. People convicted of violent crimes such as murder, attempted murder, aggravated battery, robbery and rape will not be considered.
“There are criminals that do criminal acts, and then there are some good people that commit a criminal act,” he said. “We always have to make that distinction. At our work release facility we want to be careful to screen them and determine what type of risk they are, whether they’re criminally minded or if they just committed a criminal act.
“A work release center is generally for people who are considered lower risk,” he added. “It allows them to keep their job and still take care of their families. The real issue we have is being able to monitor the largest number of people with the smallest amount of staff to be cost effective.”
Along with a floor plan, DLZ also will determine how many additional staff members would be needed to run the facility. There is no projected number of new positions. Tetrault said the current corrections staff could utilize office space, but there would still be a need for workers to supervise the facility on second and third shifts.
Howard Circuit Court Judge Lynn Murray has long been a proponent of a work release program. As a member of the work release subcommittee, she believes it would give judges another option when sentencing low-risk criminals.
“The options right now are either prison for the worst offenders, or put them on probation or in-home detention,” she said. “Work release is a more constructive, confining option that allows offenders to be employed and pay for housing, while still supporting their family and children. It also doesn’t give them the freedom of in-home detention. It would also help ease out some of the overcrowding in our jails, which has been a problem for the last several years.”
Work release subcommittee member and Howard County Board of Commissioners President Paul Wyman said he is excited about possibly implementing a work release program.
“After we toured the facility, our committee and the state feel good about the facility and the potential for it to be a work release,” he said. “We think it’s a great reuse of one of our existing buildings.”
Wyman said he expects the facility to have some start-up costs, but funding shouldn’t be an issue.
“Initially there will be an investment requirement from the county,” he said. “We don’t know what that number is yet. In talking with [the department of corrections] and the council, we’re pretty confident we’ll be able to put some of our money into it.”
The Howard County Community Corrections Advisory Board started considering opening a work release center for the county in September. Since then, community corrections has looked into a few different facility options in addition to the old jail site.
Martin Slagter can be reached at 765-454-8570, firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @slagterm.