City approves variance for work release center


The Seymour Plan Commission gave its nod of approval to a Jackson County project to build a work release center on the east side of the city.

Members voted 6-1 last week to grant a land use variance allowing local developer Andy Royalty to construct the $6 million facility in the 300 block of Dupont Drive.

Funding is coming from the Seymour Redevelopment Commission, Jackson County Council and Jennings County Council over a 20-year period.

[sc:text-divider text-divider-title=”Story continues below gallery” ]

The variance request now goes to the city board of zoning appeals for final approval.

The center will house 150 low-level male and female offenders. The program requires participants maintain a job in the community and help pay for the program.

Royalty owns the Dupont Drive property, which is north of the Jackson County Learning Center and across the street from a homeless shelter he also is developing.

“It is a use that we believe to be consistent with the area as it has developed,” attorney Jeff Lorenzo said in representing Royalty and his development company, Self-Made Men LLC.

Commissioners Dave Eggers, Jeri Wells and Don Bruce did not attend Thursday night’s meeting.

President Don Myers Jr. cast the only dissenting vote. He has said in the past he would not vote in favor of the project because the city does not have the proper zoning in place for a such a facility.

The property is currently zoned for commercial development.

Commissioner John Reinhart, who also is a member of the city council, said he supports the center. He just doesn’t want to see it built in a commercial area.

“I can tell you that Mr. Royalty would have liked nothing better than to have this develop as a commercial enterprise over the past 10 or 12 years he has owned these properties, but it hasn’t,” Lorenzo said.

The city council has not voted on a proposed amendment to city code that would create an institutional zoning classification for criminal justice and rehabilitation facilities. That ordinance would prohibit the work release center being within 600 feet of a school or church.

Reinhart asked if the county looked at other properties for the center, such as the vacant superior court building on the west side of the city. He is concerned there will now be two tax-exempt properties taking away from the city’s assessed valuation.

Royalty said it would cost $2.5 million more to renovate the court building into a work release center than to build a new one.

County commissioner Drew Markel said the court building is for sale and hopefully will be added back to the city’s assessed valuation in the future.

Before voting for the land use variance, city engineer Bernie Hauersperger said he wanted to see a couple of conditions included in the project, including sidewalks on Dupont Drive from U.S. 50 north all the way to the work release center and homeless shelter.

He also suggested Royalty add a green space buffer between the learning center property and the work release center and lighted signage to distinguish the two.

All other plans must meet the city’s development standards, Hauersperger said.

Royalty agreed to take those measures.

No one spoke against the project.

J.L. Brewer, director of Jackson-Jennings Community Corrections, and Jackson Circuit Court Judge Rick Poynter explained the need and benefits of the project.

The location on Dupont Drive is an ideal location, Brewer said, because of its proximity to counseling services, education and employment.

There are 39 community corrections-based work release programs in Indiana, many of which are located in commercial and residential areas and near schools, Brewer said.

Jackson County’s work release facility is being based on Dubois County’s work release center, Brewer said.

Many of the offenders who would qualify for the work release program already are working and living in the community on home detention, he added.

Of 135 people currently on home detention, 60% are in Seymour daily, Brewer said.

Offenders from both Jackson and Jennings counties will be sentenced to the program.

The majority of those people are in trouble for drug-related offenses, he said.

“This is not going to be a place that has sex offenders in it,” he said.

Those sentenced to the program will be drug-screened regularly and will be checked with a body scanner to make sure they aren’t bringing drugs into the facility, Brewer said.

They also will receive treatment, counseling, education and other services during their time in the work release program.

Brewer said the building will be well maintained on the inside and out and will not create any blight in the area.

“We’ll be regularly inspected by the state of Indiana,” he said. “We have to pass those inspections. There are checks and balances in place to make sure we’re doing what we said we’d do.”

The program also will benefit local employers, he said.

“We get calls on a regular basis from employers, from temporary services wanting to know if we have anybody that is not working,” he said. “We’re at the point where our people aren’t looking for jobs. They’re looking for better jobs.”

Mike McCory, vice president of human resources for Rose Acre Farms, said that company struggles daily to get enough people to work.

“Anything we can do to help alleviate that, we support,” he said.

The company already employs people through work release from the Jennings County Jail and in facilities in North Carolina and Iowa.

“We got to the point where we had to think outside the box to get what we need done daily,” he said. “And this program is thinking outside the box.”

Rose Acre is not the only local company that struggles for help every day, he added.

“Any help we can get would be greatly appreciated,” he said.

Reinhart asked why the county wants to build a work release center if offenders can just be placed on home detention.

By sentencing offenders to work release instead of home detention, there is more intense supervision and stability and an increased chance of success, Brewer said.

“We have a lot of folks that when they get out of jail, they have no place to go,” Brewer said. “It can be used basically as a way to step people down and reintegrate them back into society. Some people just need to have a little more supervision.”

It also can be used for someone whose offense isn’t bad enough to be sent to prison, he said.

“Once you send somebody to prison, it’s a lot of work to bring them back and get them reintegrated into everyday life,” he said.

Commissioner Mark Hays asked how long offenders would remain in the program.

“Our average length of stay is around 180 days,” Brewer said.

Some people are in for less than a month, while others can be sentenced to two or three years, he added.

Hays said he wanted to know how many people the work release center would serve annually.

“Based on our home detention turnover, we serve anywhere from 450 people to 475 a year,” Brewer said.

He anticipates 35 to 40% of the offenders sentenced to work release will be from Jennings County and the rest from Jackson County.

“We have guaranteed (Jennings County) that they will have access to 50 beds in the facility,” Brewer said.

The center has to be built in Seymour, Poynter said, because that’s where the jobs are and many of the offenders do not have a driver’s license or their own transportation.

“The mayor of Seymour, Mr. (Craig) Luedeman, is the one who suggested Mr. Royalty’s property out on Dupont Drive,” Poynter said.

Poynter said the center also is a solution to overcrowding problems at the Jackson County Jail in Brownstown and will save taxpayers from paying for a $25 to $30 million jail expansion.

The jail population has been close to 300 inmates this year, or around 50 more than the jail is designed to hold, he said.

This year, Poynter said he will have 700 felony cases filed in his court. The growing number of cases is directly linked to the national opioid crisis, he said.

“Drug addicts are going to do one of two things,” Poynter said. “They’re going to steal or they’re going to deal to supply their habit.”

A work release center will help keep offenders stable by keeping them off of drugs and putting them in a safe environment, Poynter said.

“The only difference between work release and home detention is you sleep in our bed in work release,” he said. “At our work release center, we know where you are and we know who you’re with and we know what you’re doing. This is a step between prison, jail and home detention, which is a step we’ve been missing for too many years.”

Poynter said the center is in the best financial and moral interest of the community.

“It’s not only going to save lives. It’s going to change lives,” he said.

No posts to display