- Programs seen as one way to get other counties to rent jail cells from Clay County
Faced with a shortage of out-of-county inmates-- and the revenue that comes with them-- Sheriff Mike Heaton is working with county and state officials to bring more prisoners to the Clay County Justice Center.
In a bid to lure inmates of the Indiana Department of Corrections, Heaton and State Rep. Andy Thomas (R-44) have teamed up to promote the facility to state officials and plan for new inmate programs that would give the Clay County facility an edge over its competitors.
"We can't just sit back and say, 'Hey, we're on the list as a holding facility,'" Heaton said.
According to Thomas, the IDOC shows preference to jails that offer more than just a secure cell and a bunk. Whenever possible, the state prefers to send its inmates approaching the end of their sentences to facilities that provide "re-entry programs" that prepare inmates to function in society upon their release.
"(A high-ranking IDOC official) said if we could make a proposal for a re-entry program, there would be an immediate availability of about 40 inmates from the area," Thomas said.
Thomas prepared a "Memorandum of Understanding" outlining the programs already offered by the jail-- GED courses and substance-abuse classes, among others-- as well as inmate-friendly initiative currently under consideration, including a tentative agreement with Ivy Tech to offer college-level classes to prisoners in the jail.
"There are good existing programs here," Heaton said. "This is just an expansion of the programs that are already in place."
According to Heaton, IDOC brass were impressed with the new facility during a tour early this month. Thomas said the state is reviewing the proposal now, and expects a decision from IDOC officials within two weeks.
"If (the program) is approved, Clay County will have preferred status for area inmates," he said.
In a story published June 7, The Brazil Times reported that the new facility had fallen far short of the projected number of out-of-county inmates it would house. The Clay County Council budgeted for over $600,000 in inmate housing revenues in 2006; at the time, just $7,000 had been generated.
The county may have to contend with a budget deficit before the end of the year, but according to Heaton, the situation has since improved. As of Tuesday, the jail housed 16 inmates from Montgomery County alone. Also incarcerated in the facility were several inmates from other counties and two state prisoners, each generating $35 a day in revenue.
The re-entry programs would not be supported by taxes, Thomas said, and could operate at a minimal cost to the county. Ivy Tech classes and other programs would be paid for by the inmates enrolled.
If their proposed re-entry program meets the approval of IDOC officials, Thomas and Heaton are confident the flow of out-of-county inmates into Clay County cells will improve considerably.
"This type of program is new for the state of Indiana," Heaton said, "and that's why they're interested."