Boone County Commissioners Held Town Hall Meeting on Proposed Justice Center

Summary Of Town Hall: Part 1

Posted November 29, 2021

To view actual video of the townhall click here:

On Oct. 28, 2021, the Boone County Commissioners Tom Santelli, Jeff Wolfe and Don Lawson held a town hall meeting in order to inform the community about the need to update Boone County’s criminal justice facilities. During the town hall, the commissioners explained in detail the county’s current conditions and its expected future needs that compelled them to decide a new justice center is in the best interests of the residents of Boone County.

Additional participants at this town hall meeting were Boone County Sheriff Mike Nielsen, Director of Community Corrections Michael Nance, Boone County Coroner Justin Sparks and Director of Comprehensive Services-Boone & Hamilton Counties, Aspire Indiana Diane Huddleston, all representing their respective departments/organization’s interests in this project.

The town hall participants, along with Commissioners Santelli, Wolfe and Lawson, provided detailed updates on the current process, an in-depth review of the DLZ Feasibility Study highlights and a review of current programing. They also provided the town hall attendees with an overview of the schedule, budget and funding for the proposed project. A questions/answers discussion concluded the meeting.

Identifying the Needs

Commissioner Santelli opened the discussion by identifying the infrastructure needs within the existing county jail.

“This project has been on the books for a long time in terms of its consideration,” Santelli stated. “Earlier this year, the Boone County commissioners, the [Boone County] council, judicial, prosecutor, sheriff, coroner, law enforcement, probation, community corrections and others have identified the need for capital investment in our criminal justice infrastructure, in the form of a justice center and jail expansion, stemming from multiple factors.”

Santelli continued, “The current jail operations are not ADA compliant, and, in that venue alone, we need about $5 million in repairs and upgrades.”

Boone County Commissioner Tom Santelli

Built in 1992, the Boone County jail was originally built to house 100 inmates, and according to Santelli’s report at the town hall meeting, the county has as many as 2,000 people in community corrections and probation and currently has as many as 1,000 outstanding warrants.

Commissioner Wolfe shared, “The focus at our jail is on the rehabilitation of inmates and on trying to get folks back to being productive members of society as opposed to just warehousing them. In 1990, the census in Boone County was 38,000 people. This year’s census puts us at an excess of 70,000 people. So, we’ve doubled the size of the population in Boone County. We’ve added six to eight times more officers on the street then there were at that point in time [1992], which means more arrests, more prosecution and more people finding themselves incarcerated. At that time, there were four full-time prosecuting attorneys in Boone County. Today, there are 12. So, you can see the trend that we’re going through as the population grows, and the back-end services are increasing as well.”

Boone County Commissioner Jeff Wolfe

Wolfe also shared that the jail’s prepandemic population average was around 210. That is significantly above what the county jail is allowed to house in the facility.

Wolfe added, “We have a lot of reasoning today to believe that THIS is the right time for this project. The sheriff presented to the commissioners and the county council, five years ago, a strategic plan that included a lot of discussion about this facility. We have planned the building so that it has significant increases in the treatment of individuals while they are here. This team has focused on rehabilitation, and we believe that’s the future of not only Boone County justice, but we think it’s the future of what we’re going to see across the country. We can be a leader and take this jail facility and justice center facility to the next level and help treat people rather than just sticking them in a room until their jail time is up.”

The county’s sheriff Mike Nielsen is in the final months of his elected term but remains resolute and highly focused on completing the mission of seeing the justice center come to fruition.

“Several people have asked me why am I doing this,” Nielsen shared. “They tell me that I’ve only got 14 months left of my term, so why am I going through this? I tell them that it’s because it’s the right thing to do. And that we can never lose focus of the ‘clients’ [inmates], whether they’re in our facility or outside of the facility, in community corrections. We all have to focus on that and what this justice campus does. It brings us all together, to work closer.”

Boone County Sherriff Mike Nielsen

Nielsen continued, “I want to make one point very clear. What [the justice center] brings to the table is not only increasing the amount of services and people that we can see—because we’re not seeing all the people that we need to inside our facility now—it will allow our clients to step down from the secured facility to this new facility that will be heavily focused even more on rehabilitation.”

As the town hall meeting progressed through the evening, each of the participants continued explaining the status of their respective departments and organizations and how the justice center would improve not only their space issues but would significantly improve efficiencies within their own departments and improve internal communications throughout the county’s relative departments.

“So, what will this new space accomplish?” Nance expressed, “It will allow our staff in the probation and community corrections [departments] to stop wearing so many hats. We would have the office space to be able to dedicate staff to specific roles and would be able—through the funding—to hire enough staff to do their job and only their job. It [the justice center] will allow for transition between GPS and community corrections, and they would be able to be moved from home detention right into work release, get treatment, keep their jobs and get back into the community. This new space would allow us to focus more on treatment and rehabilitation.”

What Is the Current Status of the Justice Center Project?

David Rainey, director of Owners Technical Representation for The Veridus Group, was also a participant on the panel at that meeting and offered the following updates on the status of the project from a preconstruction schedule and schematic design standpoint.

“As far as the current process that we’re going through, Commissioner Wolfe indicated that there have been several feasibility studies that have been done on the project,” Rainey said. “There was one done back in 2014–15, and there was a current jail study done on the sheriff’s office and was completed on March 28, 2020. The next thing the commissioners did was look at how they were going to deliver this project, and they looked at a lot of different delivery methods.”

Rainey explained the Indiana Code 5-23, or the Build-Operate-Transfer (BOT) statute, which was enacted in 1997 and establishes the framework for build-operate-transfer agreements. With this statute, small municipalities and local government entities have an avenue to enter into P3 contracts for infrastructure and economic development projects.

“They [commissioners] determined the most economical and efficient way to do this project is to utilize Statute 5-23, or BOT,” Rainey stated. “It is a public-private partnership. We are currently in the schematic design process, and we’ve completed programming sessions that were very intensive all-day sessions. There’s literally been hundreds of hours put into this project to date. The DLZ Feasibility Study that was completed last year is about 87 pages. This particular feasibility study did an assessment of the county and of the jail population. It also looked at the life cycle cost analysis of the existing facility.”

Slide of DLZ Feasibility Study Highlights

Rainey continued, “The study looked at a 2040 forecast, so a 20-year look at what this jail might look like. And we did a PCA—property condition assessment—looking at the existing condition of the facility, and the study found that there is an abundance of ADA noncompliance throughout the facility. If you’ve been to the jail recently, you understand that the front door is non-ADA compliant and many of the toilet facilities are not ADA compliant. All of that needs to be brought up to standards.”

With regards to the anticipated schedule and budget for the justice center project, Rainey said, “We’re obviously in the fourth quarter in 2021 and we’re working on completing the schematic design. By the end of the fourth quarter of this year, we will have the budget finalized. We will hopefully be proceeding with design development—pending funding approval by the county council. We really can’t move past that [design phase] until we have the funding approved. The last thing we want to do is stop the process that is happening right now. We want to keep that moving forward. We’re holding the [budget] range of $40–50 million, and we’re going to do everything we can to keep it at that. That’s our goal, and that’s what we’re pressing toward.”

Slide of Anticipated Schedule For Proposed Justice Center

Look for a subsequent article that concludes the Boone County Commissioners’ town hall meeting and additional articles/information on the proposed justice center at or on Facebook at Living In Boone County.