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Residents weigh in on Vigo County Jail at first public forum with study firm

Tuesday's meeting is one of possibly more public forums hosted by RJS Justice Services.

Posted: Mar 20, 2018 10:56 PM

VIGO COUNTY, Ind. (WTHI) - Inside the auditorium at Terre Haute North Vigo High School were not just different people, but different opinions on the Vigo County Jail.

"If the jail is where we're going to put people who have done wrong, then I want to know what would happen to someone much as myself if I were to do something wrong?" said Patrick Clayton.

Clayton, studying economics at Indiana State University, says he has his concerns in regards to Vigo County's jail overcrowding.

"In socially inequality situations, there are people who don't have those stepping stones that they can step on," he said, "and they fall through the cracks, and they get picked up in the prisons and the jails, and they do not get a fair stick in life."

Clayton was one of many inside the auditorium Tuesday night, hoping to find out what's next in the jail's future.

Tuesday's meeting is one of possibly more public forums hosted by RJS Justice Services. The group recently completed an assessment on Vigo County's Jail and criminal justice system. However, their overall study on the matter is still underway.

The forum, RJS says, is a vital part of their overall plan. They said the concerns and suggestions from the community will help shape the study and what happens going forward.

Attendees were handed cards to fill out about their expectations and concerns for Vigo County's Jail.

RJS proposed two questions during the forum:
1. Does the Vigo County Jail have bed capacity to incarcerate the current & forecasted inmate population?
2. Can the Vigo County Jail ensure sustainable provision of the constitutional care & custody in inmates?

The firm's answer to both of those questions were no.

To conduct their research, the firm says they are using methodology based on onsite information and data collection, interviews with local officials, stakeholders and the community, assessment and evaluation of the jail and criminal justice system, evaluation of jail structures and operations, analysis of jail population trends, data analysis, research and evidence based best practices and sustainable action planning.

For Michael Esau, bringing in RJS is a nice change of pace in comparison to what was laid out before.

"The original process, I believe, was an archictectural firm trying to sell us a facility and I think some of their data collection was flawed," he said, "and I think we were rushing, and we really needed to just take a step back and do what's best for the community."

Esau says he was one of several pushing for an independent assessment study to be done on the jail and criminal justice system. After Tuesday's meeting with RJS, he says he's feeling confident about the process.

"Pretty much what I expected tonight was answered," he said, "That they've started a process, they're getting empirical evidence and data, and they're going to evaluate it and the next forum I think they're going to talk about some recommendations on best practices. I believe that's the direction our community needs to go."

As for the future, Esau says he'd like to eventually see a criminal justice committee in Vigo County.

"I'd like to see a criminal justice committee that represents different aspects of our criminal justice system, that can act as more than an advisory board, and it's fluid and can oversee this from now on."

Kevin Gardner, Vigo County taxpayer, says like others, he has his concerns on how much a proposed jail project would eventually cost. In the meantime, he says he's happy to see county government working together in finding a solution.

"I'm happy with the fact that the county council and the commissioners came to the decision to do this kind of research," Gardner said, "I guess the biggest truth to be, I'm waiting for the next meeting when we can start hearing what some of the solutions are and what kind of effect those will have."

While some agreed it's too early to share their thoughts on the future, many say they're hopeful county leaders will continue working at transparency and encouraging the public to get involved in the process.

"There's been improvement and I definitely think we've got a long way to go at keeping the community informed and having the different government entities be more transparent," said Esau, "We need a lot of work in those areas still I think."

"I feel as though they really did want to actually listen to the community, and I'm glad there were members of the community that came out," said Clayton, "I am only disappointed at the fact that there were not more people that would actually come out and the fact that there were not more young people, or more minorities, that would actually come out and speak for the people. I'm one of the young people and so I believe that we need a voice."

RJS says they hope to have two or three public meetings. They are unsure how many at this time. News 10 will continue to keep you updated as we receive more information on that.

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