Construction of work release center in Seymour set to begin


Construction of a work release center designed to help inmates get back on their feet should begin sometime in late September.

For J.L. Brewer, director of Jackson-Jennings Community Corrections, the 24,420-square-foot center to be built in Seymour has been a long, long time coming.

Although Royalty Companies hasn’t started construction, even the sight of a bulldozer at the center’s future location at 319 Dupont Drive has Brewer excited.

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“We’re making some progress. We may not be moving any dirt yet, but it’s sitting there ready to go,” he said. “It’s very encouraging to see something happening.”

He said the project dates back to around 20 years ago when one of predecessors received funding for a work release project in the old county jail in Brownstown.

Other needs for space, however, forced the project to be scrapped and the former jail became the courthouse annex.

Brewer said it then became a struggle to revive the work release center after he took over the director’s position in 2009.

He said initially, support just wasn’t there for the project, but over time, opinions have changed, ultimately leading to it soon becoming a reality.{p dir=”ltr”}“I think people see the need,” Brewer said. “I think that has just kind of changed things.”{p dir=”ltr”}Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the jail’s population was constantly near capacity of 248 or above, and the work release center would have eased that overcrowding. The population Wednesday was 186.{p dir=”ltr”}The project has a $6.2 million price tag, said Gary Smith, senior manager at Seymour-based Reedy Financial Group, who assisted the county with budgeting.

The cost will be divided between Jackson and Jennings counties.

Jackson County plans to issue bonds worth the estimated $6.2 million that will be paid back over a 20-year period.

Jennings County will make two $75,000 payments each year for the next 20 years. In exchange, Jennings County will be able to send inmates to the center up to a third of its capacity of 150.

Jackson County will fund the other two-thirds of construction costs through income and property tax revenues.

Although some property tax revenue will be used, the project will be tax neutral and will not increase tax rates, Smith said. That’s because the county will make the final payment on the bonds used to finance courthouse and courthouse annex renovations in the early 2000s in December 2021.

The cost of operating the work release center, including staffing, will be paid by those using it.

Brewer said each person staying there will pay $20 a day and also will have to pay for their own food and other personal items, such as toilet paper and laundry.

Brewer believes this model is best for not only taxpayers, who won’t need to pay for those items, but also the inmates.

“It’s good for the taxpayers. You’re not just paying for someone to sit and do nothing and eat food that county taxpayers supply and soak up the heat and air conditioning that the county supplies,” he said. “The people are having to pay for it just like we do. We pay for food to eat and a roof over our heads, so it’s good in that respect.

“I think it’s also good for the clients or the participants in the program to have that responsibility, to know that they have to pay to eat and live. It provides them motivation to get out and get employed.”

For Brewer, the goal of the program is to help inmates exit custody with a stable job and living situation.{p dir=”ltr”}“It doesn’t have to be from one high to another. It doesn’t have to be from one couch to another or paycheck to paycheck. They can get some stability and get out of here and get on their own,” he said.{p dir=”ltr”}Not everyone who enters will be rehabilitated, a reality Brewer said he has already accepted.{p dir=”ltr”}“Our job is to lead the horse to water, we cannot make the horse drink, but we can keep leading it to the water. Eventually, the horse is going to drink,” he said.

Day-to-day life for inmates will be vastly different to the lives of those currently in the Jackson County Jail in Brownstown or the Jennings County Jail in North Vernon.

To be involved, inmates will need to be sentenced to the work release center, giving judges another tool instead of jail when it’s time for sentencing.

It is not an opt-in program available to anyone.

After being sentenced, inmates will be responsible for waking themselves up at the appropriate time for their job each day, Brewer said.

There will be no clothing restrictions or uniforms, and after getting ready, inmates check out at the front desk, retrieve any items they need for work that will not be allowed in dormitory areas, such as a box cutter, and head off to work.

Inmates will not be provided transportation to and from work and will be expected to sort that out themselves.

After work, they will return to the center, where they will receive a body scan and be administered random drug tests.

Brewer said this will be done differently for each inmate, depending on perceived risk based on their record. After placing items back into their lockers, they will be allowed to re-enter the dormitory areas.

The center will include a lounge that will have vending machines, as outside food items will not be allowed, televisions and seating.

It’s not all smooth sailing once you return from work, however, as inmates also will be required to participate in rehabilitation courses, including cognitive change, anger management and relapse prevention programs.

Inmates will have homework assignments that will need to be completed before the next session. The number of courses an inmate needs to take will depend on their criminal record.

Case management staff will be present to work with inmates. Additionally, Brewer hopes to have in-house addiction counselors at the center.{p dir=”ltr”}Brewer estimates construction will begin near the end of September. The project will take an estimated six to eight months to complete and will immediately create eight new full-time jobs.

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