Before the 2019 legislative session ended last week, the Indiana House of Representatives and Senate approved two bills aimed at helping counties suffering from jail overcrowding issues.

At least 37 of the 92 counties in Indiana are at or over 100 percent capacity, according to the most recent Indiana Department of Correction jail inspection reports, and jails across the country now hold more than triple the population than they did in 1985, according to Bureau of Justice Statistic reports. 

In order to help reduce these numbers, the Indiana Legislature passed House Bill 1065, which would allow counties to pay DOC to house felons in an existing regional holding facility or contract with an economic development company to build a holding facility, and House Bill 1078, which allows counties to send violent felons who have two unrelated Level 6 felony charges to DOC facilities if they are over capacity. 

County officials have said that they are happy that legislators are trying to pass bills to help aliviate the issues, but Commissioner Tom Wall said Huntington County needs to prepare for addressing the issue in the long term, since he believes the state is not going to solve the problem, especially because they added stress to the problem when they forced counties to house Level 6 felons back.

To take the matters into their own hands, the county commissioners and sheriff’s department turned their recreation room into a multipurpose room that will offer church services and mental health services for inmates – something Sheriff Chris Newton said is one of the most challenging parts of reducing recidivism, which means the rate at which people return to jail for repeat offenses. 

“These were all services, that many of the individuals use to get in the prison, but never did here,” Newton said. “It is our hope that these programs will serve as behavioral modifiers and reduce the likelihood of recidivism that is plaguing us now.”

Church services will begin May 2 at 10 a.m. and run every Thursday, and Newton said they currently have two pastors signed up to give services, but he is inviting other pastors to volunteer since he believes the program will catch on with the inmate population as the program progresses. 

Also starting in the month of May are services put on by the Bowen Center and Dream Center focused on rehabilitating inmates to help them fight substance abuse or other mental health issues. 

The Bowen Center will be giving moral recognition therapy classes to female inmates every Wednesday at 9:30 a.m. and life-skills classes on Thursdays at 1 p.m. The Dream Center will be offering life-control classes for substance abuse to male inmates on Fridays at 10:30 a.m.

There will be bible classes for men on Wednesdays at 2 p.m. and for females on Wednesday at 3 p.m., with a Moms in Prayer program going on each Wednesday at 7 p.m. 

Governor Eric Holcomb has yet to sign either bill, but both bills passed with significant support from both the Republican and Democratic parties. Only a handful of senators and members of the house voted against the bills when they passed out of both the house and senate. 

Although the General Assembly’s legislative session is over, Holcomb will have at least a month to consider whether he will veto or sign the bills.

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