Hoping to save Jefferson County money spent on psychiatric evaluations related to insanity and incompetency pleas filed by defense attorneys, Superior Court Judge Blaine Goode informed County Council at its meeting on Tuesday of an effort to approach the state legislature about utilizing the staff at Madison State Hospital for those services.
Goode said statute allows the court to appoint “competent, disinterested psychiatrists and psychologists endorsed by the Indiana State Board of Examiners in psychology as health service providers” with language added in 2004 that “none may be an employee or contractor of a state institution.”
He explained that Jefferson County “is in a little different situation than most of the counties in that we have Madison State Hospital in our backyard.”
Goode said he and Jefferson Circuit Judge D.J. Mote have discussed a proposal to ask the Indiana General Assembly to “amend the statute so that we can appoint those doctors at Madison State Hospital to do these evaluations at no additional cost to Jefferson County.”
Goode explained that a statute has existed for many years allowing that if a county has a state hospital within its borders that the county gets a state-paid deputy prosecutor if the facility has a minimum of 350 patients daily. Goode noted that Madison State Hospital averages about 114 patients daily, thus making Jefferson County not eligible for the additional deputy even though to the court handles MSH cases.
“We have a hospital here, but we’re getting zero benefit from it, so that’s the pitch to legislators that we should be getting some benefit, and this would be a much cheaper benefit to us to have them do the evaluations for us,” said Goode, noting the county spent $42,854.18 last year for mental health evalutions which generally cost between $1,000 to $2,000 per defendant.
“It would save us a lot of money and not be a lot of extra work for the doctors there (at Madison State Hospital) since we only run 20 to 25 of these a year.” Goode said.
County Council members expressed universal support for the effort.
“I don’t know if we can get it done, but if you don’t ask, you’re definitely not,” Goode said. “And I know there have been accomodations for other counties within statutes where there’s exceptions written, so I hope we can get that done.”
Goode also provided a report on the recently completed 2021 calendar year — his first year as judge of Jefferson Superior Court after previously serving as deputy prosecutor — which he called “very successful.”
The case load is “down enough that the staff is not having to work a lot of overtime and actually we were able to let them burn a little bit of their comp time that has built up over the years,” the judge said. “Hopefully that will continue.”
“We started with a big running backlog, ” Goode added, noting the court is facing its lowest backlog in nearly 10 years. He said at the end of 2021, there were 1,005 pending cases, which he said is 39% lower than the average between 2014 and 2020 with an average of 630 more cases in 2021.
“It’s moving the cases through,” said Goode, noting that has been accomplished by establishing accountability measures for the attorneys and the court. He said there was a transition in the first month “but once they got used to it, things started moving smoothly” and he expects this year to be even more productive.
Meanwhile, Sheriff Dave Thomas pointed out that his budget request for 2022 called for 15 jail staff members, but the budget approved included funding for only 14 positions.
“I just wanted to come before you and tell you that the loss of one jail officer has been pretty difficult on us,” he said, noting that standards established by the Indiana Sheriffs Association (ISA) indicate that there should be 20 staff members so the jail was already stretched short at 15.
Council member Judy Smith said the reason for the decrease of one jailer was because Thomas “reclassified what they were called” and came back with the same overall staff. Thomas said he reallocated so the Council “knew for sure what numbers you have.”
Council member Ray Denning said the Council has given the sheriff’s office eight jailers over the last six years, and they have “been put in different places.”
Thomas, whose term as sheriff began in January 2019, noted he wasn’t sheriff six years ago, and “that’s what I’m trying to straighten out. All I can do is ask” for the additional jailer, and then leave it for the Council to decide whether to provide it.
Thomas said he is currently gathering information on operating costs for the new Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office and Criminal Justice Center, which is slated to be completed in 2023. He is waiting on a report from Bill Wilson, ISA jail services coordinator, which he anticipates providing to the Council at its February meeting.
In other business:
• The board unanimously elected Denning to serve as the council’s president in 2022, replacing Pam Crozier, who has served as president the last two years. The group also elected Judy Smith as vice president, replacing Chris Shelton, the previous vice president.
Council members also made their board appointments for 2022 including: Shelton, Community Corrections Advisory Board; Smith, Southeast Indiana Regional Planning Commission (SEIRPC) and Emergency Management Agency Board; Denning, Animal Shelter Advisory Board; Crozier, Southeastern Indiana Recycling District; Heather Foy, Public Defender Board and Insurance Board; Ray Black Jr., 911 Communications Advisory Board and County Plan Commission; and Gary Copeland, Visit Madison Inc.
Additionally, Wendy Lawson was named as the Council’s appointment to the Jefferson County Board of Tourism and Smith was selected to participate in the Broadband Task Force that is being created by SEIRPC.
• Received a request from County Health Department Administrator Tammy Monroe for $64,329.48 to replace 18 windows with insulation on the south side of the Jefferson County Health Department building based on a quote from Kinsinger Custom Windows of Vevay. Windows were previously replaced on the north side. Because Kinsinger was the lowest bidder for the north side windows, other bids were not sought. However, the Council requested to see more quotes, but gave approval for the appropriation to be advertised since even with a lower bid, the cost would be less than the current known windows cost.
• Heard an update from Commissioner David Bramer on the county’s efforts to update its zoning ordinances after a comprehensive plan was completed last year. The County Plan Commission sought quotes from companies to assist the county in updating the ordinances but only one was submitted. Taylor Seifker Williams Design Group of Indianapolis, the same company that worked on the comprehensive plan, provided a quote for $74,960. Bramer noted that only $50,000 has been budgeted for the ordinance update this year. He expressed hope of getting the design group to lower its price, but indication are that unlikely of that happening.