Jail targeted for treatment center

Substance abuse leader suggests utilizing unused area to help inmates recover

A recommendation is expected next month that an unused 120-bed portion of the Bartholomew County Jail be converted to a drug treatment center for inmates.

That will be one of about 50 recommendations likely to come in September or later from the Alliance for Substance Abuse Progress in Bartholomew County, according to Jeff Jones, the organization’s executive lead.

“Being able to treat people suffering from addiction in our jail right now will be our number-one initiative,” Jones told the Bartholomew County Council on Tuesday.

The goal should be to open the center no later than 2019, due to the increasing number of opioid addicts emerging in the community, Jones said.

Sheriff Matt Myers and his predecessor, two-term sheriff and current county council member Mark Gorbett, expressed support for the recommendation.

A similar program in eastern Kentucky, as well as a pilot program in Bloomington, were cited by Jones as evidence that in-jail addiction treatment is becoming mainstream in communities across the country.

“We’ve got people in our jail that are sober for the first time in a long time,” Jones said. “Some percentage of those people are getting their heads right, and are ready to be treated.”

Most of the 50 alliance recommendations have already been drafted, but Jones said they still require the endorsement of three community leaders _ Columbus Mayor Jim Lienhoop, Bartholomew County Commissioners chairman Carl Lienhoop and Columbus Regional Health CEO Jim Bickel _ before they can be formally presented to the community.

The three will be asked late this month to endorse some or all of the recommendations that Jones said will also include the following:

Inpatient treatment centers.

Creating a detoxification facility at Columbus Regional Hospital.

Establishing a drug court headed by Bartholomew Circuit Court Judge Kelly Benjamin.

Securing housing for former inmates after they are released from jail.

Arranging transportation for people needing treatment.

Seeking donations to fund scholarships to train individuals for jobs created by the recommendations.

Each recommendation is dependent on others for success, so multiple efforts should move forward simultaneously, Jones said.

Jones’ decision to outline conceptual recommendations ahead of schedule was prompted by the fact that the county council began 2018 budget hearings this week, council president Laura DeDomenic said.

“If (the alliance) is wanting us to do this in April 2018, we have to consider it in this budget cycle,” DeDomenic said. “If we don’t consider it now, it won’t be considered until at least January 2019.”

Even if the recommendation is approved and financed, Myers and his staff will need time to think through the complex process of renovating the unused 27-year-old portion of the jail and make staffing plans accordingly, Jones said.

Although some recommendations will require taxpayers to bear some financial burden, there are other levels of support that include philanthropic organizations, corporate foundations and individuals, Jones said.

Jail milestones

When the current Bartholomew County Jail opened in 1990, it was at 95-inmate capacity. However, changes were soon made that increased the number of beds to 120.

In October 2006, groundbreaking was held for an $18.5 million expansion and renovation that would accommodate up to 250 more inmates.

When construction was completed two years later, jail officials decided to no longer use the older 120-bed portion of the jail due to insufficient staffing.

Alliance overview

The Alliance for Substance Abuse Progress in Bartholomew County was formally named at the “Moving the Needle: Community Forum” in April.

The alliance has a three-pronged organizational structure with action teams focused on prevention, intervention and treatment and recovery from opiate addictions.

Retired Cummins Inc. mechanical engineer Jeff Jones was named executive lead for the organization in April. Other key members include: Beth Morris of Healthy Communities, who leads the prevention team; Judge Kelly Benjamin, who heads the intervention team (the justice team); and Julie Abedian, vice president of community partnerships and corporate responsibility at Columbus Regional Health, who leads the treatment and recovery team.

The entire effort is being overseen by three local community leaders representing different parts of the community, Columbus Mayor Jim Lienhoop, Bartholomew County Commissioner Carl Lienhoop and Jim Bickel, who is president and CEO of Columbus Regional Health, the community’s hospital system.

Author photo
Mark Webber is a reporter for The Republic. He can be reached at mwebber@therepublic.com or 812-379-5636.