City backs county’s proposal for work release center

City officials support a proposed county project to build a $5.5 million work release center in Seymour and are willing to help fund it.

Council members recently discussed the project and its benefits to the community.

Such a facility would allow felons and those convicted on misdemeanor charges to work while serving their sentences. The inmates would go to a job during the day and return to the secured center at night.

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Last fall, county officials expressed their interest in partnering with the city and Jennings County to open the facility, which would house up to 150 inmates, including 100 men and 50 women.

Having a work release program would help alleviate crowding at the jails in Jackson and Jennings counties but also would benefit inmates by giving them work to do while serving their time. It also would allow them to earn money to pay for their expenses and to help them get back on their feet when they are released.

Seymour Mayor Craig Luedeman said work release programs have proven to be effective in reducing the number of people who are rearrested and put back in jail. The program would be run by Jackson Jennings Community Corrections, which already is located in Seymour.

The center would give judges another alternative when sentencing people for their crimes and would keep the county from having to add on to the jail in the near future, he said.

“I think it’s a good program. It’s a way to get them into the workforce instead of just keeping them locked up,” Luedeman said of the inmates.

Having a paying job and responsibilities could help a person from having to return to an environment that might include drug use, violence and crime, he said.

“Maybe by taking them and putting them in a different program and getting them some help and hopefully getting them some funds so they can go get a new place, get back on their feet, they won’t have to go back to that,” Luedeman said.

County Councilman Brian Thompson said that’s the biggest benefit of the program.

“They become an asset to the community instead of a liability,” he said of the inmates.

Both county and city officials agree Seymour is the best site for the project because of its centralized location and it offers more employment opportunities.

Originally, the county was looking at converting the former Jackson Superior Court I building on the city’s west side to house the program, but the cost was going to be nearly $9 million, Thompson said.

That’s because the building would have to be made secure and it’s not laid out properly for dorms, he said.

Now, Thompson said the county is shifting toward building the facility on the east side of Seymour in early 2020, close to the Jackson County Learning Center and the Eastside Industrial Park.

Luedeman said he expects the county will present a memorandum of understanding soon for the council to approve.

“Basically, they are asking us to support this,” Luedeman said. “Hopefully, I will be able to come back in March with some numbers and more concrete details.”

The city would have to give up 25 percent of its share of the county economic development income tax to fund the project.

Since 1998, that revenue has been tied up in helping pay for the construction of the Jackson County Jail and juvenile detention center in Brownstown. That $10 million project will be paid off in June.

County officials approached the city council in 2017 asking the city to use that revenue to help fund a new $12.1 million judicial center to house all three of the county’s courts in Brownstown.

Not wanting to see Jackson Superior Court I move from Seymour to Brownstown and not wanting to give up an estimated $6 million for the judicial center over the next 20 years, the council unanimously voted against funding that project.

“Since we kept our income tax back, they are going to ask us for that income tax draw that we were originally contributing to the jail that was going to go to help pay for the judicial center,” Luedeman said.

The new Jackson County Judicial Center opened in Brownstown in December 2018, and the county is preparing to ask the city again for money to help pay the bonds for that project.

“We have to be careful to not live in the past,” Thompson said of the city’s refusal to help fund the judicial center initially. “Our goal is to show that we can work together.”

Although Seymour City Council President Jim Rebber was against using city tax revenue to fund the judicial center, he said he supports the work release center.

“I think it’s a fine idea,” he said. “It could help save some people by getting them turned around. Even in the beginning, if it’s just a small percentage, I think it’s the right thing to do.”

Councilman Dave Earley agreed.

“It’s a win-win situation,” he said because the work release center will help provide workers for local factories and other workplaces that struggle to fill jobs.

Earley said he has been told the current recidivism rate for people being arrested is high and that there are multiple generations of families currently incarcerated.

“We’ve got to do something different,” he said.