Addressing Growing Mental Health Needs in Boone County

As May marks Mental Health Awareness Month, we are turning our focus to the Unit E wing of the Boone County Justice Center and the mental health and addiction recovery programs it will facilitate once construction is completed.

The Boone County Justice Center is poised to meet the challenges of a growing county head-on. With increased caseloads and evolving community needs, the center is committed to providing scalable infrastructure, ensuring resource efficiency, and enhancing community accessibility. By focusing on these key areas, the center aims to support the overall effectiveness and confidence in the legal system, while addressing the rising demand for mental health services within the community.

Preparing for Imminent Growth

Discussions on the proposed justice center for Boone County began in 2015, involving then-county commissioners, county council members, and former Boone County Sheriff Mike Nielsen. Nielsen, now serving as the Boone County Executive Project Manager, is overseeing the construction of the justice center, collaborating with various teams and departments throughout the process. Reporting directly to the current county commissioners, Donnie Lawson, Jeff Wolfe, and Tim Beyer of Zionsville, Nielsen ensures smooth coordination and communication.

While initial metrics in 2015 outlined the projected population growth and justified the need for expansions to the existing jail in Lebanon, Indiana, no one could have foreseen the subsequent $3.7 billion Eli Lilly development and the Indiana Economic Development Corporation’s LEAP District in Boone County. These ongoing projects will significantly impact the county’s growth.

The Boone County Justice Center is poised to offer efficiency, convenience, and cost savings by consolidating multiple legal, judicial, medical, and mental health services under one roof. It represents a shift in the approach to criminal justice for the community, prioritizing rehabilitation over mere incarceration.

With Population Growth Comes Increased Mental Health Needs

With the population of Boone County on the rise, there is a corresponding increase in mental health needs within the community. Recognizing this challenge, the Boone County Justice Center is taking proactive steps to address the growing demand for mental health services. By integrating mental health support into its services, the center aims to provide comprehensive care and support to individuals residing within its facilities.

“The Boone County Commissioners, Coroner, and our partners are not waiting for the completion of the Justice Center,” Boone County Commissioner Jeff Wolfe stated. “We have been proactively working to expand mental health and addiction recovery services to inmates. We are excited about the opportunity to further enhance these services and programs, making them even more robust for the individuals in our care.”

Boone County Commissioner Jeff Wolfe

According to Boone County Coroner Justin Sparks, this year’s data is looking more optimistic, statistics-wise, compared to previous years. This data reflects the Coroner’s current completed investigations, so there is a chance the numbers could increase slightly based on pending investigations.

Overdoses:

2024 YTD: 1

2023 same time period: 5

2022 same time period: 6

Suicides:

2024 YTD: 3

2023 same time period: 7

2022 same time period: 2

“Why the decrease from last year,” Sparks queried. “That is difficult to say to this point. I will say that the private and public partnerships that are actively working on addressing the issues have never been stronger. We have worked hard at building programs and messaging to fight the issues. We have reinstituted the Quick Response Team. This team of mental health professionals, along with members of my team, go to locations where we have had mental health or substance abuse 911 calls within the week. We check on them with the right people to assist them with any resources they need to aid in recovery. Time will tell as the year moves forward, but I feel like right now we are pointed in the right direction and making positive progress!”

Boone County Coroner Justin Sparks

Wolfe confirmed that both Aspire Indiana Health and Integrative Wellness, LLC (InWell), are the contracted mental health providers for the Boone County Justice Center.

Built for Rehabilitation, Not Incarceration

The Boone County Justice Center is being constructed with both current and future population growth in mind. In the initial phase, Unit E will accommodate 108 inmates, with provision for an additional 24 in a future phase. However, there is potential to expand further, with space available to add an extra 48 beds within the new expansion, although this decision can be made at a later date. Unit E itself spans an overall square footage of 34,650 square feet, with a capacity for 132 inmates across both current and future phases. Additionally, Building B is projected to house 144 work-release clients in the future.

As of the publication date of this article (April 28), the construction of the Justice Center is 59% complete.

“This building is all about function … not for aesthetics,” Wolfe said. “The original study showed that we should add 330 jail cells and we could have housed people that way, but it would not have served the rehabilitation track we are on. The primary objective of the Justice Center has always been rehabilitation rather than incarceration,” Wolfe said. “We aim to reduce the recidivism rate by providing inmates with the necessary support and resources for rehabilitation. Additionally, we are committed to ensuring that individuals have the tools they need to lead productive and healthy lives.”

Commissioner Wolfe explained that the Step-down housing will be located within what the commissioners are calling the mental health wing [Unit E]. Step-down housing helps individuals transition or “step down” from restrictive housing [jail cells] to less restrictive environments with the goal that they will eventually transition back into the community.

Max Mendenhall, Director of Capital Investments, added, “These pods [in Unit E] will offer a dormitory-style living area with 8 bunks [to a pod] sleeping areas, similar to the community corrections housing units. There is room to grow in this unit, in the future. The area up on the second floor will house additional program/classrooms where the contracted counselors and related personnel will have their group meetings and the Central Control officers’ area where they have a clear line view of every pod in this area.”

Wolfe added, “We will also have vocational training in Unit E and we are looking to contract with the local schools and apply for [vocational] training grants so we can begin implementing programs such as automotive training, etc., once the building is completed.”

For more details and current updates on the Justice Center, visit livinginboonecounty.com.