Public needs more information

To the Editor:

The cost estimates for the Marion County jail project were reported at the May 5 Marion County Commission meeting. The two options presented seem to be the two extreme possibilities with no middle ground proposals.

Why not a new 20- to 24-bed facility that would cover the 25-year county prisoner census projection given by the "jail expert" at the last public meeting on the jail project?

How about taking a look at the empty lumberyard building property across from the courthouse square as a possibility for renovation into a jail?

In these times of high prices, tight county budgets and taxpayer fatigue there is a need to be creative, innovative, and thrifty in the solutions to county problems.

The 75- or 78-bed jail proposal is a "jail for profit" scheme that was talked about at previous jail information meetings. Fifty beds or so would be available for out-of-county prisoners on a per-diem basis. I assume this would generate a positive cash flow for the county to pay for the jail and perhaps make a profit. I have not seen an income-to-expense analysis to know if this is a profitable enterprise.

I have heard assurances from officials that only non-violent out-of-county offenders would be housed at the new county jail. What if the supply of non-violent offenders is low, would the county accept a load or two of violent offenders until a new source of non-violent prisoners could be secured?

How much of the operating budget will be provided for prisoner services and what will those services be? A few things come to mind when thinking of a well run facility that would rehabilitate and reform rather than just warehouse the prisoners.

An in-house drug and alcohol counselor to deal with substance abuse issues. A jail workshop could provide vocational training to inmates to increase skills for post-release employment. A computer lab could provide the possibility of obtaining a GED and computer skills that would prepare the offender for the modern workplace. Many prisoners will have health issues that may require frequent care, in-house medical personnel may make more sense that trips to the hospital.

The services offered could be the source of a number of good paying skilled jobs for properly trained individuals, the question is whether the per-diem charges will bear the expense.

Last week, in reference to the testing of water at Marion Reservoir, county commissioner Dan Holub was quoted as saying, "It's a moral issue." I will argue that the Marion County "jail for profit" also is a moral issue. The citizens of Marion County need a lot more information on the purpose, mission, costs, and future regulatory projections for this jail enterprise project.

Harry E. Bennett