The public meeting held Monday night regarding the proposed site for the new Starke County Jail facility brought to light a number of community concerns.
Specifically, members of the audience pointed out three main concerns: public safety, property value, and increased traffic. To alleviate these concerns, Commissioner Kathy Norem brought attention to a study performed by the U.S. Department of Justice concerning issues with siting correctional facilities.
Seven correctional facilities throughout the nation were selected for the study, including three in Florida, and others in Idaho, Arizona, and Tennessee. For each facility, the study defined a target area and a control area. The target area was defined by a circle, several miles in diameter, drawn using the facility as its center. The control area had comparable demographic features with one exception: no correctional facility.
The study indicated that over several years, sales prices for residential property in the target areas were not significantly different from those in control areas. However, one exception was found in a high-income area near the Arizona State Prison Complex, where lower property values occurred in the third of three years studied. However, the study noted that factors unrelated to the prison, such as zoning changes, natural boundaries, overabundance of rental properties, and lack of owner care may account for the change.
Of the 79 realtors responding to the survey, most believed that the presence of the facilities in their communities had little or no negative effect on sales price. Further, most realtors did not believe that sales activity was adversely affected by the presence of a correctional facility. Only two realtors–from Boise, Idaho and Memphis, Tennessee–reported losing one or more potential buyers specifically because of the facility.
As for public safety, the study revealed either no significant difference between crime rates for the target and control areas or the crime rate was found to be significantly lower. Average escape rates varied from a low of one per year to a high of 12.3 per year. Recapture rates varied from a low of 50 percent to 100 percent. Escapes did not pose a significant threat to the personal safety of the residents near the correctional facilities. The most serious crime committed in the neighboring communities by escapees was car theft, presumably to assist a getaway.
The traffic concern, however, was not addressed by the study. Highway 8 near the location proposed for the jail is a relatively high-traffic area with only two lanes, and residents are concerned about the increased traffic causing an issue.