Overcrowding topic of concern during sheriff budget talks

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. (September 8, 2016) -- With inmate overcrowding and significant deputy and dispatcher turnover, Sheriff Layton believes trouble lies ahead if he doesn't get the money he's asking for in next year's budget.

Wednesday night he requested a $10 million bump from 2016 to bring the 2017 budget to $123.9 million dollars.

Layton insists that's how much his office needs next year to help protect the city, take care of an increasingly at-capacity load of inmates at the jail and avoid a lawsuit.

"We’ve been told by the Indiana Civil Liberties Union that they’re keeping a very close eye on this," says Layton. "They’re watching every move we make and it’s not a bad idea."

For more than half an hour, Layton laid out the potential for a lawsuit over the overcrowding, plus the many other issues facing his office, before he presented his budget.

"So many of these people are in jail because we’re mad at them, not because they need to be," says Layton. "If they were on the right medicines, if they were having the right healthcare and being seen by the right people, they wouldn’t be in our jail right now."

The sheriff's office is planning to set aside $2.5 million in next year's budget to deal with the overcrowding. That includes adding beds and paying other counties to house our additional inmates. Right now, 141 Marion County inmates are staying in other jails because Layton is out of room.

That's why Layton agrees with the new Supreme Court ruling out Wednesday, pushing counties to stop holding people in jail just because they can't afford bail.

He wants to see that coupled with some help from the courts and the city to help divert low-risk offenders and the mentally ill from the jail and possibly receive proper treatment.

Sheriff's Office administration expect healthcare costs, which include mental health treatment, to hit $12.5 million next year.

Layton also believes his office is shouldering too much of other healthcare cost burdens.

"When another agency brings in someone else injured, who's under arrest, they automatically just hand him over to the deputy," explains Layton. "From that point on, the sheriff has to pay for the arrestee’s health care in Eskanazi and many of those are trauma rooms. You can imagine the cost for that."

Layton says he knows of no other county or Indiana that distributes healthcare costs for inmates so unevenly.

He also says other Indiana counties have the advantage of snatching up their well-trained dispatchers by offering salaries between five and ten thousand dollars higher. A dispatch job with Indianapolis Power and Light can offer up to $20,000 more for a starting salary than Marion County currently offers.

To combat the high turnover rate, the budget request also includes a three percent pay increase for dispatchers and deputies.

"We lose about seven deputies a month," says Layton. "Our last deputy class only had 21 people on it. That’s three months worth."

Retaining those deputies is more important than ever for Layton because it's getting harder to replace them.

"I can remember easily having 900 people apply for maybe 15 jobs at deputy sheriffs," says Layton. "Now we need 60 and we can’t find them."

While Layton blames some people in local government for allowing the situation to continue to lag, he also believes the state played a role in creating the overcrowding situation. He says it began with the closure of state mental institutions and hasn't let up. Now he wants them to solve the problem they started.

"Maybe they can look at that 2.5 billion dollars that they’re sitting on as some kind of nest egg," says Layton, "and think, 'Hey, we could be doing something with that money. We’re not a for-profit organization. We ought to be doing something with that money to help out the people who put it in those coffers in the first place.'"