Indiana sheriffs seek more funding for jails

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind.-- The idea behind Indiana House Bill 1006 in 2015 was to send low level felons back to the counties where they were convicted so that the guilty party might be closer to his or her family and stand a better chance of serving a sentence and reducing the risk of recidivism.

Ironically, hundreds of those state offenders serving time back home have now been put on the road to counties far away because their local jails don’t have enough bed space.

Indiana sheriffs walked the halls of the General Assembly Thursday to lobby legislators and tell the men and women making state laws that HB 1006 has backfired, emptying prison beds only to fill overcrowded county jails and break local budgets.

“Last year we had over 8700 people arrested in Vanderburgh County,” said Sheriff Dave Wedding. “We only house 650 so about ninety percent of the offenders are out on the street anyway, so we don’t need to let anybody else out.”

Central Indiana sheriffs said they find their jail numbers exploding at the same time suburban populations grow and offenders become more violent.

“It’s the same in Hendricks County,” said Sheriff Brett Clark. “We have a capacity of about 250 beds and we’re averaging last year roughly 279 a day, so it's always a challenge.”

Earlier this month Marion County Sheriff John Layton recorded his highest inmate population in five years as 2652 offenders competed for 2507 beds at three downtown Indianapolis facilities.

Hamilton County Sheriff Mark Bowen has reconfigured some jail space and his juvenile center to free up enough beds to house 400 inmates on a Noblesville criminal justice campus built to house 296 offenders.

Bowen wants lawmakers, who just two years ago sought to reduce the Indiana prison population, inquire if there are any beds available in state facilities or if Correction authorities could accept some of their inmates back into custody.

“I think it's time that we do examine what their facilities are and who they are able to hold in the state prison system,” said Bowen, “and see if there are some of those Level Six inmates that we can ship back to the Department of Correction perhaps and get them out of our local jails.”

Layton has said that while the state reimburses Marion County $35 per day per day to keep low level offenders in Indianapolis, he pays jails several hours away in Clark and Elkhart counties at least $40 a day to house Marion County’s overflow.

“We’re seeing the jail population continue to rise,” said Wedding. “We are having more violent crimes. We’re having more drug sales of heroin, methamphetamine, a lot of gun violence, so, a lot of people are being arrested who need to be in jail.

“I think a fact that people are overlooking is the female inmate population that’s been on an incredible spike over the years.”

Female and juvenile offenders have specialized housing needs that segregate them from male inmates.

One sheriff said a local judge told him to keep addicted pregnant offenders jailed until they deliver their babies to reduce the risk of drug exposure for the newborns.

Another sheriff said that a pregnant inmate hooked on heroin asked him to arrange for an abortion.

The sheriff refused.

Next Tuesday Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett’s Criminal Justice Task Force will announce a cost estimate of a proposed criminal justice center, jail and sheriff’s office on the city’s eastside.

Marion County’s current main jail is 50 years old and outdated, inmates and detainees are spread among several locations throughout Indianapolis and criminal courts are housed in the City County Building while support agencies are located in other leased downtown facilities.

The Hogsett task force is looking at a potential $500 million campus to be located on the former Citizens Energy Coke plant on Prospect Street east of Fountain Square.

In late March planners will unveil financing options while judges determine which courts will relocate to the proposed center.