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Marion County may consider early release to relieve jail crowding

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. -- As Indianapolis residents demand safer neighborhoods, IMPD officers and Marion County Sheriff’s deputies have done their jobs locking up an increasing number of violent offenders.

“Today if you compared this date to 2015 and 2014, we have 429 more people in our custody than we did on those days,” said MCSO Col. Louis Dezelan. “There are more officers on the streets so there are more arrests.”

Last year approximately 64% of the people arrested in Marion County were processed and sent home from the Arrestee Processing Center. This year that number has climbed to 73%.

“We think the quality of the arrests are higher,” said Dezelan. “There are people who are charged with more serious offenses.”

Sheriff John Layton told the Public Safety Planning Council that his jail population is at what he called, “a crisis mode,” with 95.5% of the beds in his three facilities occupied, leaving his staff little wiggle room to house even a small surge of daily inmates.

“The space and beds is certainly part of it. We only have so many beds for inmates,” said Dezelan. “The problem is the number of people coming to the jail so we are essentially running out of space.”

But there is space available. The upper floors of the county-owned APC are empty yet unfinished though Dezelan says expansion had been previously discussed. Liberty Hall on East Washington Street once housed 250 offenders but has not been part of the sheriff’s incarceration solution since 2010.

Instead, the jail is sending state inmates to the Department of Correction on buses twice a day to hold down the local population while at the same time shipping 24 offenders serving their state time at the county level to the Elkhart County Jail at a cost of $24 per day.

Dezelan said the jail is working closely with Community Corrections to assign more offenders to home electronic monitoring within hours of a judge’s signature in order to hold down the daily population tally when it approaches 2,507 inmates, the system’s “constitutional” capacity.

On May 9 the planning council, made up of elected and administration officials and chaired by Prosecutor Terry Curry, may consider requesting Marion County judges to implement emergency release protocols to send some less serious offenders home to await their trial dates.

Marion Superior Court and the sheriff have already been whittling down the number of less serious offenders behind bars.

Any new re-instituted protocols, similar to those that relieved jail crowding issues a decade ago, would certainly reach into the more serious or potentially violent felony offender population.

“There is an emergency release protocol that is being reviewed but that’s not being done by the sheriff’s office. That is the responsibility of the judiciary,” said Dezelan. “We would hope that the early release protocol would include things like considering community corrections and take a close look at everyone.”

The sheriff’s warning and request for suggestions comes at the beginning of the Month of May at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the start of warmer weather, events that have traditionally signaled a seasonal spike in arrests.

Layton is also awaiting a consultants’ report on inmate population, corrections staffing and facility needs while the administration of Mayor Joe Hogsett is developing a process to consider the construction of a new jail and sheriff’s office complex.

A $500 million Criminal Justice Center proposal by then-Mayor Greg Ballard failed last year over doubts regarding financing, neighborhood involvement, council input and necessity.

Dezelan said any longterm solution will also need to take into account the approximately 880 inmates held in the jail everyday with diagnosed mental illness issues and the housing and budget challenges they present.

Despite mandatory overtime and extra jail assignments for all detention and sheriff’s deputies, and a longtime contention that the jail is undermanned, Dezelan insists a shortage of staff is not a factor in the crowding crisis.

The current antiquated Marion County Jail, built in the 1960s, requires one detention deputy per three offenders.

Dezelan says a new facility could run with a ratio of 1:5.