INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – Every time an offender in handcuffs and ankle shackles is marched from the Marion County Jail through a tunnel below East Washington Street and into the basement of the City County Building for an elevator ride up to Marion Superior Court and an appearance before a judge, he or she is accompanied by a court line sheriff’s deputy.
Walking singularly or chained to a half-dozen or more fellow inmates, the defendants represent security risks to each other, the deputies or the general public which often passes within feet of the processional in narrow CCB hallways.
112 of the offenders inside the Marion County Jail are defendants in murder cases facing the most serious charges and longest potential prison sentences and must occasionally face a judge.
Four years ago, 85 deputies provided courtroom security.
Now, Marion County Sheriff John Layton has just 69 such deputies at a time when courts are scheduling more hearings in an attempt to expedite justice and relieve pressure on the sheriff’s crowded jail.
“The judges and the courts in general have been doing just a stellar job on accelerating their schedules and getting court dates through so we can cut down on the number of people in the jail,” said Colonel Louis Dezelan. “At one point they wanted to double up on schedules and have some extra court time and so on and we were not able to supply the court line deputies to them to the extent necessary.”
As of 9 a.m. Tuesday, 2,454 inmates were incarcerated in jail facilities designed to hold 2,507 offenders, putting the system 100 prisoners above what the sheriff considers a crisis level.
The judges’ request led Dezelan to issue a report to the Criminal Justice Planning Council calling for $900,000 in a mid-budget year appropriation to hire more court line deputies, increase their wages and stem the flow of overtime and attrition.
“The judges asked us to increase the number of court line deputies that we have,” Dezelan said. “The issue on not having a sufficient number of deputies is the same for all of our deputies. We just don’t pay them enough money.”
Across the sheriff’s office, Layton has a budgeted strength of 637 deputies: 543 sworn deputies and 94 jail detention deputies.
Recent figures show nearly one out of every four deputy jobs at the Marion County Sheriff’s Office is empty with 23 jail detention deputy vacancies and 104 sworn deputy vacancies.
“We lose a lot of deputies to other agencies who just pay more than we do,” said Dezelan.
Layton has found that the talent drain is acute in the sheriff’s emergency dispatch center where 25 of his current 51 civilian job vacancies have occurred.
“Those individuals come in and we train ‘em and then they can earn more money in contiguous counties or in other locations and they leave us,” said Dezelan.
Layton’s budget as authorized by the City County Council has decreased from $114,814,771 in 2016 to $113,124,262 during the current year as Mayor Joe Hogsett vowed to return the city and county to a balanced spending plan after inheriting an ongoing $50 million deficit.
The potential mid-year funding appropriation request from Layton, a Democrat, leaves Republican council members skeptical.
“We’re barely a third of the way into the year and we’re looking at the prospect of a pretty substantial request for additional funds for a core responsibility of the sheriff’s department,” said Councilor Jeff Coats of Lawrence, “so, my first question would be, why wasn’t this incorporated into the 2018 budget?
“They came to us about six months ago for a substantial amount of money to cover contracts and overtime.”
In November Layton sought $7,618,460 to cover retiree health insurance and overtime costs and expenses for inmate housing and medical care costs that were carried over from 2016.
“We’re looking at another huge request,” said Coats, “and the hits unfortunately just keep on coming from the sheriff’s department.”
Mayor Hogsett’s office is in the final stages of engaging an outside accounting firm to conduct an audit of the sheriff's operation and budget.
A preliminary financial finding will be key to development of the sheriff's office’s 2019 budget while the operational audit will inform the next county sheriff on what to expect upon swearing in next January 1.
“Many of us on the council are eagerly awaiting the results of that audit. A lot of questions that we’ve had open for many many years,” said Coats. “The number of vehicles being used, how much money is being spent on overtime, things along those lines.”
Through the April 6 payroll, the sheriff’s office paid out $1.19 million in overtime salaries.
The beginning salary for a sheriff’s deputy is $29,414 maxing out at $45,659 for a seven year veteran, not counting overtime or off duty opportunities for additional wages.
Dezelan said the sheriff’s office loses an average of five deputies a month to retirement, burn out or better job opportunities.
“It does impact our staffing in the jail also. We are able to cover that with overtime. We have a lot of deputies working a lot of hours to work that overtime,” said Dezelan. “We disallow working more than 16 hours in a day so if you work an eight hour shift you can work a double shift or if you work a 12 hour shift you can work an additional 4 hours.”
The sheriff has been calling in jail wagon drivers to pull shifts to cover manpower shortages in the jail.
“We’ve been asked, ‘Why don’t you use the overtime money to raise the salaries?’” said Dezelan. “That overtime money is necessary to bring the staffing to where it has to be in the jail.
“What we desire to do is increase the salary for all the deputies so that we can get more people in the door and retain them for a longer period of time,” Dezelan continued. “If we have 40 positions open, we can’t throw open the front door and have people walking in. We have to do extensive recruiting. The salaries are not desirable and it’s very difficult to get people to come in.”
The sheriff’s $900,000 appropriation request for court line deputies has not yet been forwarded to the council.