Dave Taylor, writing for the Tribune Star, has a good article on the efforts of Vigo County to locate a site for a new jail. The county is under pressure from lawsuits about overcrowding at the Vigo County jail. Expansion of the current facility sounds like something of a non-starter because it’s in town and two levels. The idea of transporting prisoners up and down in an elevator in the jail does sound like trouble.
I don’t know anything about Terre Haute or Vigo County, but some of the issues seem familiar to what we have in Tippecanoe County. The proposed new site is on County land near the Wabash River — which is exactly where Tippecanoe County’s current jail is. The move in Vigo County is opposed by an organization called Wabash River Development and Beautification (but commonly known as “Riverscape”). Riverscape is devoted to improving the land along the Wabash River. (In Tippecanoe County, we have an outfit known as the Wabash River Enhancement Corporation doing similar work.) Riverscape objects to using up land near the river as a jail because, in its opinion, doing so would limit options to improve and beautify the River in the future. Vigo County counters that the jail would not be on the part of the parcel adjacent to the River and that the remaining tract would presumably be available for River development. I don’t know anything about the history of Tippecanoe County’s relocation of the jail from in town Lafayette to land near the River, but it was done before WREC was up and running. That notwithstanding, WREC has developed long term plans for the river in Tippecanoe County that accommodate the fact that Tippecanoe County’s jail is in the area.
In any case, this issue is a nice microcosm of the types of cost-benefit analysis and weighing of priorities that local government has to undergo. This is the type of issue that has more of a practical impact on the day-to-day lives of citizens than the big, national issues of the day that consume our attention. So, kudos to the Riverscape folks who are working to transform their stretch of the Wabash into something more livable than what was left behind by heavy industrial uses or uses that tended to crop up along rivers before we were very conscious of urban planning. And kudos to the local officials in Vigo County and Terre Haute who are trying to come to grips with housing inmates in a humane way while being responsible with taxpayer dollars and trying to see that Wabash River is rehabilitated in a way that makes their area a better place to live. I’ve seen the folks in Tippecanoe County grapple with some of these things, and it’s definitely not always easy. But it is important.