Clark County inmate work release program ending this year

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News and Tribune on 8/18/2017 by Aprile Rickert

Clark County Jail

JEFFERSONVILLE — A little-used part of Clark County Community Corrections — an inmate diversion program — is slated to close by the end of the year.

The Clark County inmate work release program will shutter by Dec. 31, after a contract between Clark County Corrections and the Indiana Department of Corrections to house the inmates in that program comes to a close.

Although it was once more widely used, Jamey Hayden, Clark County Chief probation officer, said that over time the need for the state-funded program has dwindled as judges seek other options for sentence diversion.

A move toward more evidence-based programs for inmates, and the recent adoption of a pretrial program that allows some low-risk inmates to be released prior to their trials under the condition that they report to all court dates, are part of that shift in focus. So is the growing use of other Community Corrections programs such as day reporting and home incarceration.

“We’ve got a lot more tools in our toolbelt … than we did in the past,” Hayden said.

The concept of work release, he said, is to keep low-risk offenders in a job, but it poses a problem when offenders violate the terms of their sentence.

“Some of the problems that are inherent with work release is when a defendant goes out during the day, you don’t know what they’re doing, what they’re consuming — whether it be drugs or alcohol,” Hayden said. “And you don’t have any control over that. They can be doing it while they’re on their lunch.

“The intentions were good initially; there’s just too much lack of control over what happens with the defendants when they’re out.”

The program is seeing reduced numbers, as well.

No one was in the work release program Wednesday or Thursday, but it wasn’t always that way, said Danielle Grissett, Quality Assurance probation officer. At its highest, the program had around 80 inmates, who would leave each day for work under the condition that they return at the end of their shifts.

“But they were constantly violating,” Grissett said. “And the judges kind of lost faith in them going into work release and getting the help they needed.”

Day reporting has grown from an average of around 20 several years ago to 60 now, she said.

“The numbers are up in both [day reporting and home incarceration] more than any time in the past nine years,” she said.

Grissett said there are more referrals going to GPS monitoring, which is less costly than work release and keeps law enforcement apprised of the locations of offenders.

“With work release, they’re not on GPS monitoring,” she said. “They’re monitored and they’re supposed to leave and come back … but you don’t really know where they are unless you’re calling and checking.

“They always get caught — but [with home detention,] you know right away when they went somewhere they weren’t supposed to.”

Participants in the forensic diversion program, a voluntary program in which non-violent offenders get addiction treatment, are housed in the same area as the work release inmates. It will be staying.

“Part of the issue with [inmate population] is drug issues,” Grissett said. “The opioid crisis is getting worse every day … and I think criminal justice is going a lot more toward treatment.”

In the forensic diversion, offenders are in intensive treatment for 90 days, followed by nine months of after-care supervision where they’re still required to go to treatment.

In other programs, inmates are generally required to pay a fee.

“Whereas in forensic diversion, the only thing they’re required to do is be active in their treatment,” she said.

Ending the program will also open up more opportunities to house full-time inmates. Since full-time and work-release inmates can’t be housed together, dissolving the program will open up 92 beds.

Lt. Col. Scottie Maples with the Clark County Sheriff’s Office said that would be a great help — the jail is nearing capacity right now.

“To have additional space always makes the jail run more smoothly,” he said.