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Marion County Jail filled, inmate crowding crisis spreads across state

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind.– Lieutenant Colonel James Martin took a walk down a slim corridor on the other side of the bars from 29 offenders inside the Marion County Jail.

“How you doing? You doing ok?” he asked an inmate, tattooed and troubled, recently released from mental health treatment who was proud that he wasn’t cutting himself anymore. “I’m glad you’re doing okay in here though,” said Martin.

As of late Thursday morning, 1,145 inmates were jockeying for 1,135 beds inside the state’s largest county jail, and that population makes up only have the offender count spread across three facilities in Marion County.

“We are at full capacity,” said Martin. “We are at the point where as the inmates are coming in we are getting them booked in we’re making sure the releases are getting out.”

Martin’s count does not include the 165 inmates, men and women both, who have been sent to Elkhart and Clark counties to serve their sentences as the impact of the jail crowding crisis is felt statewide.

“We have taken some of our jail sentenced inmates who are sentenced to jail and we’ve moved those out to other counties,” said Martin. “The reason we picked that population first is because they don’t have any other court dates and they don’t have to come back they can just go serve their sentence for us.”

The 50-year-old Marion County Jail, last expanded in the 1980s, is antiquated and devoid of many of improved technology, architectural and security improvements that newer facilities enjoy.

“It’s a rare occasion when you’re going to see an empty bunk it’s going to be a classification issue or trying to find the right inmate,” said Martin, “or we’ve just taken an inmate out of that cell and we’re getting ready to fill it with an inmate coming in.”

Marion County’s inmate crowding dilemma is not unique.

The Johnson County Jail is packed approximately 20 inmates above its capacity.

Howard County Sheriff Steve Rogers is asking county authorities to establish a work release program to clear out space in his facility.

Vigo County officials declined to vote this week on a request to build a new county jail in Terre Haute.

“Right now a lot of sheriffs are looking at it strategically,” said Wayne County Sheriff Jeff Cappa, president of the Indiana Sheriffs Association. “They put some strategic planning together to take a look at their numbers, how many they can hold in their facility, how many they could possibly expand to if they needed to. But we also have to look at the inspections being done by our state jail inspectors to make sure we’re doing what we’re supposed to do.”

Cappa said sheriffs from across Indiana will be meeting with state lawmakers during the upcoming legislative session to lobby for increased funding to house state inmates at the local level and pay for the programs intend to keep offenders from coming back to jail.

“It’s going to lower costs possibly but we’re also seeing an increase in incarceration rates not only in Indiana but also nationally,” said Cappa.

Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett has called for a review of the entire Marion County criminal justice system and intends to announce a new jail plan and system-wide reform this December.