A flurry of 11th-hour negotiations last week culminated in enough funding being committed by three governmental agencies for a planned work release center that will serve Jennings and Jackson counties.

As reported Tuesday in The Sun, the Jennings County Council approved a 20-year contract for the initiative after a lengthy special meeting on Wednesday, March 27. The council agreed to pay an amount not to exceed $150,000 annually starting in 2020.

"This is way more than the typical inmate rehabilitation program at a county jail," said Mike Gerth (R-District 1).

Added Charlie Weber (R-District 4), "I think it's immoral that we don't have anything besides a jail."

Both ultimately voted for the plan, as did Paul Belding (R-at large), Bob Ellis (R-District 3) and Howard Malcomb (R-at large). Mandy Creek (R-District 2) and Dave Woodall (R-at large) were not present.

The Jackson County Council previously approved a commitment of the same amount.

The City of Seymour was the last of the three entities to agree to the commitment. When it considered the contract early last week, Sey­mour's City Council rejected it after city attorney Rodney Farrow advised it would result in double taxation for Seymour residents because they pay county taxes, too.

Seymour Mayor Craig Luedeman and the council then lobbied the Seymour Redevelopment Commission to use tax increment financing revenue to fund the Sey­mour's share of the project. The commission met in a special session Thursday and voted 4-0 to support the project.

That enabled Jackson-Jennings Community Corrections to narrowly meet the March 31 deadline for filing a grant application with the state. The agency, which will manage the work release center, applied for a $1.45 million state grant for operational expenses.

The total cost for the facility, to be constructed on the east side of Seymour, is estimated at $5.5 million and will be funded by bonds to be paid off by the three government agencies' semiannual payments.

Although the work release center site is not in Seymour's TIF district, it adjoins the district making it eligible to receive TIF revenue.

Plans for the facility, which is to be built on property on Dupont Drive near the Jackson County Learning Center, call for 152 beds to house first-time and low-level offenders at 50 each for Jennings County, Jack­son County and the City of Seymour. Instead of being incarcerated in jail, those male and female inmates will work in local factories and businesses so they can earn money while they serve their sentences.

Inmates in the work release program will also have access to mental health and addiction treatment and behavioral change classes, according to J.L. Brewer, director of Jackson-Jennings Com­munity Corrections.

"We're trying to fix people," Brewer said in a story by January Rutherford published in The Tribune of Seymour. "That's not the same as fixing a road or building a building or fixing your car. You can't plug something in and find out what's wrong with it and go buy that part. You can't put asphalt over it and make it better. It takes a lot of effort, and our jails don't have the means to do that type of work. We do."

The work center's goal is to get offenders employed so they can pay their child support, restitution payments and income taxes and do the things that everyone else does, according to Brewer.

"To make a better life for themselves and a better place to live for the rest of our community, that is the intent of the program," he said.
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