Marion County Jail sees largest population spike in 5 years amid overcrowding crisis

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind.– This week, the Marion County Jail system recorded its largest population spike in five years as authorities continue to struggle with an overcrowding crisis.

“We are very high right now,” Sheriffs Col. Louis Dezelan told the Criminal Justice Planning Council. “As the weather warms up, we can only expect there will be more people in our custody.”

Last April Sheriff John Layton warned the Council that his jail system was bumping up against its court-mandated capacity, relieved only by the transfer of Marion County inmates to other county jails in Indiana.

Monday morning’s population tally stood at 2,652 offenders housed at the county jail, Jail II and the City County Building. That total was 145 inmates above capacity.

Additionally, 165 state prisoners serving their time at the county level have been shipped to nine other jails across Indiana.

Last year, Marion County paid Elkhart County in excess of $1 million to house so-called 1006 inmates– offenders convicted of low level crimes but returned to their counties to serve their sentences on the theory that the prisoners and their families would benefit from incarceration close to home.

Ironically, Marion County’s overcrowding crisis has necessitated shipping offenders to jails far from home at a cost of $35-40 per day, though the state provides substantial reimbursement.

The Wednesday morning count at the jail had slipped to 2,626 inmates, still 119 above capacity, with an additional 158 state prisoners housed elsewhere.

Mild winter weather may be to blame for the premature spike in the jail population.

“We are over right now the peak of last summer,” said Jail Commander Lt. Col. James Martin. “Our busy season is July and August. That’s when we typically see our highest numbers.

“We’re above that right now and we don’t know what that means for the summer.”

Martin said Marion County’s ability to send its few remaining state prisoners to other counties will be limited by fewer open beds at those Indiana jails.

Sheriff John Layton is scheduled to meet with Indiana Department of Correction authorities to determine if there would be any potential state relief to the Marion County overcrowding dilemma.

The county continues to explore options at Liberty Hall, a shuttered facility with 250 potential beds.

The site near downtown is classified for low level offenders and would not necessarily address Marion County’s needs for medium and high security risk inmates.

Layton told the Council that Marion County Community Corrections currently has approximately 4500 offenders under its authority, 400 in custody, with 3000 awaiting trial.

Mayor Joe Hogsett is in the process of recommending construction of a new jail with up to 3000 beds on the site of the former Citizens Energy Coke Plant on Prospect Street east of Fountain Square.

A Criminal Justice Center Task Force is slated to offer up a funding solution, perhaps in the range of $500 million, Feb. 27.