PRINCETON — Gibson County Commissioners Wednesday endorsed a proposal to explore converting the county's North Main Annex building into probation department space, to accommodate new state requirements coming in 2020.
Gibson Superior Court Judge Robert Krieg asked commissioners for permission to seek money in the county's courthouse improvements fund from the Gibson County Council next week to finance the project.
Krieg said preliminary cost estimates are still being determined, but he said the extra space in the North Main Annex, a former furniture store building midway between the courthouse and the Gibson County Jail, will help handle some of the new state requirements.
The judge said he and Gibson Circuit Judge Jeffrey Meade propose to relocate and centralize the county's probation department as laws change in 2020 to include the probation department's involvement in a pretrial assessment program that is charged with determining in a case-by-case basis whether bond is necessary or whether other conditions of release would be more appropriate.
"Probation has always been involved for people who are convicted of crimes," Krieg explained. The new requirements will mean more work and more foot traffic in the probation offices.
"We need more space, more privacy, and probably another person to do research on cases where bond eligibility is a question," he said. "It's a big deal, a big change....Sometimes people sit in jail just because they can't come up with bond," he told commissioners.
With the extra casework, the probation department's courthouse basement offices pose space and safety issues. Krieg noted that the public bathrooms at the courthouse are also the same bathrooms that the probation department must use to conduct drug tests.
"We need to get all our probation staff in one place," he said.
Moving probation offices to the North Main Annex would also free up space at the courthouse for the county's long-term goal of establishing a county magistrate office.
Meade and Krieg asked the state legislature in summer study session to consider Gibson County for a magistrate program. A magistrate is a licensed attorney who would act as a judge, under the supervision of the two elected judges.
This summer, Meade reported that Gibson County ties for fifth among Indiana’s 92 counties regarding the severity of need for a magistrate. If the request is approved, the state would pay for the salary and benefits.
This summer, Krieg estimated that Superior Court has 1,005 pending cases and reported that between the two courts, Gibson County is nearly at the 90-day maximum allowance for senior judge availability to handle cases.
He said he's also working to relaunch the Gibson County Drug Court program, which will require more time to administer.
Krieg said he would likely assign small claims cases to a magistrate if the position is approved by the legislature.
If approved, the magistrate program could take effect in July 2020.