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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. -- In less than a month, the number of Marion County inmate transfers to the Elkhart County Jail has essentially doubled twice, along with the attending costs, and is set to balloon again.

On April 27, 24 state inmates serving their time in the crowded Marion County Jail were shipped 133 miles away to the Elkhart County Jail at a daily cost of $40 per offender.

As of May 9, that number of transfers was 44.

Less than a week later, the relocated population number was 84 and, according to Elkhart County Sheriff Brad Rogers, he’s expecting another 50 Indianapolis inmates to arrive at his jail this week.

Rogers said housing Marion County offenders could mean an additional $2 million a year to his jail.

The Indiana Department of Correction pays Marion County $35 a day to house offenders serving low level felony sentences.

Those revenues are now passed on to Elkhart County.

Sheriff John Layton told the Criminal Justice Planning Council that Rogers warned him he was running out of additional bed space and Marion County would have to move quickly to secure housing if it hoped to hold down its own population.

Layton says his jail system has a capacity of 2,507 beds and the daily inmate population frequently bumps up near that ceiling.

Jail crowding is a problem throughout central Indiana:

  • As of May 9, the Hancock County Jail housed 176 offenders in a facility that contained 157 beds.
  • Madison County had 230 inmates with just 207 available beds.
  • Hendricks County listed 252 prisoners vying for 250 beds.
  • Johnson County reported 344 offenders in a jail built for 322 inmates.

In his recent State of the City address, Mayor Joe Hogsett announced the solution to Marion County’s Jail crowding crisis was a top-to-bottom review of the entire street-to-jail-to-court-to-jail process.

“Our criminal justice system is broken and merely adding more space to house more people isn’t the answer,” said Hogsett.  “A new building will not solve our crime problems.”

Hogsett sat silently through a monthly meeting of the Criminal Justice Planning Council 48 hours before his announcement of a new task force to examine Marion County’s need for a new criminal justice center.

Consultant Mike Brink of BKD CPAs & Advisors told Hogsett and the Council he plans to assemble data from across the courts, community corrections, jail and police departments by mid-summer so that the mayor’s Criminal Justice Reform Task Force can meet an end-of-the-year deadline to make recommendations regarding a new jail and rebuilt criminal justice system that would, “optimize use of community corrections….(determine) better understanding who is best suited for community corrections under what sort of provisions…(while) looking at mental health diversion as was talked about earlier and then looking at overall court process opportunities.”

A plan to construct a $500 million criminal  justice center complex under then-Mayor Greg Ballard fell apart last year over doubts about the scope of the project, its financing and city county council input.

Layton has said he might consider entering into a contract with Liberty Hall, a privately operated jail facility downtown, to house inmates he is currently sending to Elkhart County to relieve his jail system crowding dilemma.

While the sheriff said he has repeatedly warned the planning council for more than a year about the impending flood of state inmates that would swell the Marion County Jail population as of this past January 1, Layton has also served as sheriff or a top commander under previous Sheriff Frank Anderson since 2003 during the last few years of U.S District Court oversight of the jail operations and since 2007 when that oversight was removed and the crowding issue has reached its current crisis condition.

“Over the past ten years, the momentum created by that period of consensus was lost,” said Hogsett during his address last week, “as contentious debates singularly focused on a new building took hold, and any discussion of holistic reform was pushed to the wayside.

“With a $50 million structural deficit driven in large part by an inefficient and ineffective criminal justice system, we cannot let this crisis pass with just another band-aid fix.”

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