The Herald Bulletin

October 22, 2013

Women's work-release: High support, low funding

By Jack Molitor
The Herald Bulletin

ANDERSON, Ind. — The women's work-release program has widespread support in the county but is lacking what it needs most: funding.

The intermediate option for women inmates, which was scheduled to be available to Madison County this fall, has been delayed again, with no timetable for getting off the ground.

In September, community justice officials indicated they were setting their sights on 2014 for the program. The idea, which has been tried in the county twice in the past 20 years, was expected to have momentum with the dramatically increasing female populations in jail and prison. County officials estimate the female population in Madison County Jail currently vacillates between 60 and 80 inmates.

But county administrator Dan Dykes said he and others might have been overly optimistic in an earlier assessment in the summer. Madison County Prosecutor Rodney Cummings said the news is disappointing, but he can't justify the massive amount of capital the county would need to provide to fund the program.

"Right now, we'd be looking at about $600,000 that the county would have to use to fund it. We just don't have that money," Cummings said.

Dykes said the county purchased two buildings on the Youth Center campus on Mounds Road for the purpose of using them for women's work-release, a roughly $125,000 investment. Cummings said the county could afford to fund the program up to about $200,000, with the remaining $400,000 covered by a Community Correction Grant administered through the Indiana Department of Correction.

The justice center applied for the grant in the spring, but there's been no word from state officials on the project.

Cummings said he's not giving up hope on the project, but without the grant it would be nearly impossible to make it work.

As a result, the Madison Circuit Court system will continue to employ one of two options for women inmates: in-home detention or the prison system. Depending on the case, this could result in unduly light or overly harsh penalties for female convicts. Hamilton and Henry counties have women's work-release programs available that can be used by Madison County residents, but few have used that avenue because of distance issues.

According to Circuit 4 Judge David Happe, that's just not fair.

"It's disappointing because we have a need for the program, and the need hasn't changed," Happe said. "It forces us to go one way or another, with no middle option. And it's too bad because we have some women who I think would thrive in that kind of environment."

Defense attorney and public defender Jimmy McDole agreed. He said he's represented women he thinks would've been perfect for a work-release program. He said it essentially acts as discrimination.

"Women should be afforded every opportunity that the men get. They should get that chance. It's a great program that should be available for both," McDole said. "Since it's not there for them, it cuts both ways."

Cummings agreed that the biggest pitfall of not having the program is many women aren't receiving the appropriate punishment, which is especially problematic because Madison County is third in the state behind Marion and Allen counties in percentage of people sent to prison.

"That's the problem," he said. "Sadly, we have to choose sometimes where we put our money. If we put all that money into the program, it would need to come at the expense of something else."

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