While local jails struggle with overcrowding, state closes under-capacity prisons

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – The Indiana Sheriff’s Association met Wednesday to discuss a host of issues, including their overcrowded jails.

The same day, the Indiana Department of Corrections announced it was closing down an under capacity minimum-security prison. The 150-year-old re-entry facility at the intersection of New York St. and Randolph St. will close by the end of July.

According to the IDOC, 180 or so inmates housed there will be moved to other under capacity jails to “improve efficiency.” There are more than 200 beds currently unused at the Indianapolis facility.

It’s part of a trend of closing state corrections facilities.

“We have closed facilities around the state of the Indiana,” said State Sen. Jim Merritt. “And this is all about a transformation of House Bill 1006, where we’re taking those non-violent individuals who have been convicted and they’re going into community corrections.”

Already straining to find beds for the growing number of heroin addicts and dealers, local jails had to start taking in level 6 felony inmates too, according to the new law.

“Our jail numbers are over capacity every day,” said City-County Councillor Leroy Robinson. “So that’s mostly because of state law, the 1,006 inmates coming to our local jail.”

Those had to be housed in state prisons until the state law changed that.

“It’s something that we want to do because it’s less expensive, it allows people to be around their relatives, if you will, when they’re incarcerated,” said Merritt.

Housing a person in a state prison is more expensive than a local jail. In fact, Henry County Sheriff Richard McCorkle says local sheriffs have to pay twice as much per day to house an inmate in an IDOC facility as IDOC pays them to do the same.

On top of that, McCorkle says they then have to pay to move their own inmates around the state to make room.

“I’m not happy about them closing down facilities and we’re not happy about the Level 6’s being sent into counties,” said McCorkle. “Some of these sheriffs, as I’ve heard the phrase used, ‘are having to hang people from the ceilings’ because they’re out of room.”

Merritt says the shift is part of a long-term goal to rethink how convicted criminals, especially non-violent ones, are jailed.

“We need to start talking about bail,” said Merritt. “We need to start talking about the idea of incarcerating someone before their trial. There are a myriad of issues.”

Robinson applauds state lawmakers for taking a holistic approach to address the overall number of people in jail, not just their locations. But while they work that out, he worries that shifting inmates around to achieve the state’s goal of putting Level 6 offenders closer to their families, those with misdemeanors in local jails are sometimes sent farther away from their own.

They both agree that without family visitations and support, the probability of committing another crime and the danger to the community goes up.

“I think it’s a priority to us, if we’re going to have people incarcerated, to have them home,” said Robinson. “So if we can find ways to partner with DOC, if we can find ways to reduce our numbers overall, look at a holistic approach, that could be beneficial for our city and our state.”

A summer study committee is planned to address jail overcrowding and other issues. Merritt says lawmakers listened when sheriffs discussed the problem with them at the statehouse during the latest session.

Indy City-County Council members and other city officials will be touring the prison Thursday morning. They’ll be looking to see what use options there might be for Marion County.