County leaders again dodge early inmate release plans

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind.-- In April, Marion County Sheriff John Layton told the Criminal Justice Planning Council that his jail was in “crisis” mode at 95 percent capacity and Prosecutor Terry Curry suggested the leaders consider a set of rules to allow judges to release some offenders early to reduce overcrowding.

The council ignored Curry’s proposal.

In May, Layton was back again, warning the overcrowding crisis was more acute and not likely to abate in the summer.

Again, Curry raised the issue of early release protocols, merely giving judges guidelines to follow should an emergency arise, and once again the council turned a deaf ear.

Last week, the sheriff’s office announced, for the first time, its inmate capacity had passed the 2507 mark at the county’s three incarceration facilities and finally a special meeting was called for today to at last consider emergency release protocols for Marion Superior judges.

At the end of the one hour meeting, as several medium- and long-term incarceration alternatives were discussed, it was decided to delay, again, any action on arming judges with the tools they might need to relieve jail overcrowding in an emergency.

Instead, while Layton announced that his jail was again in “crisis,” the council directed its members to consider sending state inmates serving time at the local level back to the Department of Correction, reopening a low-security detention facility and preparing Community Corrections for an influx of low level offenders who could be sent home to await their trial dates.

Marion County Clerk Myla Eldridge, attending her first meeting of the summer, said she was worried that dangerous offenders would be placed back on the street to relieve the overcrowded jail conditions.

Paul Babcock, interim  Public Health & Safety Director under Mayor Joe Hogsett, admitted that while he was at his first meeting of the council, suggested more time be taken to study options before adopting a list of protocols that was drawn up and were in the hands of council members.

Layton said his crisis was so immediate that he could not wait for more study and volunteered his deputies to be detailed to probation and Community Corrections to help monitor any offenders who might be released early pending judges’ orders.

“You know our deputies are already cross trained in every aspect of law enforcement,” said Layton. “One can work in the jail today and work in warrants tomorrow, and work in warrants today and work in sexual offender registry tomorrow, and they’re already cross trained.”

Layton said that while early releases “are the last thing anybody wants,” such rules should be adopted for reference in a future severe overcrowding emergency.

The last time Marion County judges released inmates to relieve jail overcrowding was ten years ago this month.

Controller Fady Qaddoura told the council that Mayor Hogsett’s proposed 2017 budget frees up $2.5 million in spending to help Layton with his overcrowding crisis.

Superior Court Judge John Chavis said some judges are already reviewing bonds to determine if they could be lowered to release an offender before trial, yet the alternative housing options in community and low-security settings may not free up enough beds to assist the sheriff who is not only above capacity in his jail but also shipping 159 inmates to other counties for incarceration.

“Early release is a last resort,” said Chavis who left the meeting without any clear guidance to take back to his judges from the council.

Marion Superior courts reportedly set the lowest bonds in the state.

The council was told Community Corrections could handle an additional 80-100 offenders for monitoring without overtaxing its staff.

Layton said that his overcrowded jail is prone to inmate-on-inmate and inmate-on-officer violence.

Overnight Sunday, one inmate committed suicide and another was rescued in their cells.