By Mitchell Banks
A project more than 20 years in the making — the Jackson-Jennings Community Corrections Work Release Center — is finally complete and providing another alternative besides jail for people convicted of non-violent crimes.
Located at 319 Dupont Drive on Seymour’s east side, the facility opened June 7 and now houses nearly 60 residents, who are placed there based on the sentencing they receive from one of the county’s judges after a conviction.
Once placed, residents may only leave to go to work or attend classes.
“Ultimately the court sends somebody here, they get sentenced, they do their time here, then hopefully they move on and become productive,” said J.L. Brewer, director of Jackson-Jennings Community Corrections.
He said most of those sentenced to the center are getting jobs and some receive offers within hours of moving there.
The original intention of building the center he said, was to come up with another way to handle criminal offenders besides just placing them in jail or a prison.
“I feel like we’re trying to train people for a life and a lifestyle that is different than what they’ve been accustomed to,” Brewer said.
In 2000, Jackson County Community Corrections — as it was then known — received around $115,000 to create a work release facility. That project never happened and the idea for creating a work release center gathered dust until about 2009 when a committee was formed to explore the idea again. That also happened to be the year Brewer became director of the community corrections program.
The newly formed committee toured work release centers in Bartholomew, Decatur and Dubois counties at that time, but the effort to build a center again lost steam.
Fast-forward to 2018 when everything lined up as both county councilmen and commissioners were interested in finally building the center, Brewer said.
Because Jennings and Jackson counties were both looking at the need for potential jail expansions, Brewer said local officials decided to focus on seeing the work release center project to completion in an effort to try to reduce burgeoning inmate populations.
So commissioners from both Jennings and Jackson counties came together to begin the process of planning and building the center. It was to be operated by Jackson-Jennings Community Corrections. Jennings County’s program was merged into Jackson County’s in 2012.
The groundbreaking occurred in September of 2020.
The 24,420-square-foot center, with a price tag of about $6.2 million, was built by TDAK Development Inc. of Seymour.
Jennings County agreed to pay a third of the construction costs with Jackson County paying the remainder. Jackson County also financed the project by issuing bonds to be repaid over a 20-year period.
Two $75,000 payments will be made per year by Jennings County for the next 20 years for that county’s share of the cost.
In exchange, Jennings County will be able to send inmates to the center up to a third of its capacity of 150.
Jackson County’s portion of construction costs will be funded through income and property tax revenues.
While property tax revenue was used to pay for the work release center, the project was tax neutral and didn’t increase tax rate because the debt for construction of the county and juvenile center in 1999 and 2000 in Brownstown 20 years ago was recently paid off.
Due to jail overcrowding and budget constraints that jails face, Brewer said programming isn’t always offered to help incarcerated people find employment.
Even though residents are placed into the work release center based on their sentencing, facility staff and case managers work with the county prosecutor’s office, public defender’s office and defense attorneys work together with cases and to determine which offenders can live and work out of the center, Brewer said.
One’s eligibility to stay at the work release center also depends on their escape history, behavior, the level of crime committed and the level of support from peers, he said.
Sex offenders are not eligible to stay at the center due it’s proximity to the Jackson County Learning Center.
Local businesses have worked with the work release center to fill jobs, including Surge Staffing, Elwood Staffing, Rose Acre Farms, and Royalty Roofing and Construction.
Currently, 59 residents are housed at the work release center, which has 50 beds available for women and 100 for men.
While the work release center offers an alternative to criminal offenders to serve their sentencing outside of a jail, residents pay $20 a day, or approximately $600 a month, to stay there.
Brewer said for $20, residents get housing, heat, air conditioning, warm water for showering and a bed.
He said they also get access to donated books and free TV when residents aren’t in class or at their jobs. A computer also is going to be installed for residents to job search.
Residents also pay for food, laundry, supplies, phone calls and a welcome kit, which has a fee. That kit includes a blanket, a towel, soap, a roll of toilet paper, a toothbrush, toothpaste and a mat to sleep on.
If a resident cannot afford staying at the center when being checked in, indigent assistance is available for up to two weeks until they can find a job.
Residents also are not charged if they want to make a phone call to their attorney.
Other programming offered at center includes narcotics anonymous, alcoholics anonymous, anger management classes and Bible studies.
The work release center also is working with the Jackson County Learning Center to possibly provide educational opportunities to residents by offering GED courses and certification training.
A big benefit of this, Brewer said, is that employers typically come in at the conclusion of some courses ready to hire people on the spot.
Kiosks also are available to residents to communicate with work release center staff and case managers. They also can be used to request schedule changes and put in commissary orders.
Since case managers operate inside of the work release center, Brewer said that residents are able to meet with them regularly.