Panel weighs work release

BROWNSTOWN

The idea of establishing a work release center to allow low-level felons to work instead of serve time in an increasingly crowded jail appears to be gaining local support.

A committee consisting of several county officials met to review the benefits and drawbacks of creating a program in Jackson County.

Under the proposal, inmates normally sentenced to serve time in the county jail in Brownstown would stay in a jail-like facility but be allowed to leave and go to work each day.

J.L. Brewer, who is proposing the idea, said that, instead of sitting idle in jail, inmates would pay a daily fee to live and work out of the center.

Brewer, director of the Jackson Jennings Community Corrections program, has proposed such a work center before.

“That facility is their home during that period, and just like home, you have to pay your bills and go to work,” Brewer said during the meeting conducted at Jackson Superior Court II in Brownstown.

Other members of the committee are the sheriff, two county council members, a commissioner, an attorney, two judges and a deputy.

Several of those officials have said in the past they believe criminal code revisions enacted by the state legislature in recent years will lead to more offenders staying in the county jail, which has 172 beds.

Starting July 1, a change in state law will require offenders convicted of Class D felonies and sentenced to one year or less to be housed in county jails or through a county detention program instead of state prison.

Lawmakers also are considering lengthening that to a year and a half or even two years, Councilman Charlie Murphy said Monday. Murphy, who also is the jail commander, is a member of the committee, which is looking at other justice-system issues including the possibility of establishing a public defender’s office.

Last year, the county sent 39 Class D felony inmates to the Indiana Department of Correction, according to the department’s website. In 2013, the number was 18, and it was 20 the year before.

The average inmate count at the jail in January was 195. There were 190 inmates jailed Monday. In 2014, the average daily inmate count at the jail was nearly 213.

Brewer said he’s basing his proposal on Dubois County’s facility, which he and some other county officials recently toured. Dubois County, with 42,361 people, has about the same population as Jackson County (43,466).

He said a center in Jackson County combining the work release and home detention programs would cost about $1.2 million to operate annually. Offenders pay a fee to use those programs, which are adminis

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“The biggest benefit is the fact that with work release you have individuals paying their way to serve their penalty. In jail, only people that pay are taxpayers.”

J.L. Brewer, director of Jackson Jennings Community Corrections, on the advantage of a work release program