New bond rules help serve justice, resolve overcrowding in jails

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind.-- No one was afraid of Anthony Baumgardt when he had outstanding theft and criminal mischief and misdemeanor cases until he was accused of killing Boone County Sheriff's Deputy Jacob Pickett.

Donald Williams had been arrested twice this year for resisting and theft when police said he was spotted breaking into cars on the north side last week and leading them on one more high speed chase before he was arrested.

Both men, according to their records, were low-level offenders and eligible for relatively low cash bonds intended to let them await their trials sleeping at home instead of in expensive and overcrowded beds inside the Marion County Jail.

“We need to hold people who are a risk not to appear and we need to hold people who are imminent dangers to our community,” said Marion Superior Judge Marc Rothenberg. “You can’t afford to hold people you’re mad at.”

Last year more than 30,000 people passed through the doors of the Marion County Jail, often not to serve time after conviction but rather to await trial.

As of Monday, offenders filled 2,470 of the 2,507 beds in the jail’s three facilities, leaving 37 beds, or a little over one percent, open.

Sheriff John Layton considers 95.5 percent as full capacity.

Two years ago, Layton sounded the alarm as his facility rapidly filled up with offenders who previously served their short time sentences in state prisons.

Lawmakers decided to send those low level inmates back home to serve their time in order to cut state costs.

That move, and the resulting overcrowding, has forced Marion County judges, prosecutors, law enforcement and other agencies to rethink criminal justice and incarceration while planning for a proposed community justice complex to be built on the city’s east side.

“There’s been a change not in the bond amount, and when I say that, not in the amount of money that someone has to pay,” said Rothenberg.

In the past, a low-level felony might result in a $2,500 surety bond, leading to a ten percent down payment to a bail bondsman with a promise to pay the rest if the offender failed to show up for court, said the judge, but now, “You pay what would have been that $250 but you pay it to the clerk.

“Most of the bond levels have stayed the same,” he said, “so we’ve changed the types of bonds you pay but not really the bond levels and that has made it a little bit easier because families feel that they’re able to use that money to hire an attorney to pay for other things instead of just giving it to a bondsman.”

Critics have charged the new bond system results in a “revolving door” on the jail as proven by repeat offenders like Donald Williams who continue to be accused of crimes while awaiting trial.

“You need to be able to triage,” said Rothenberg. “Do I keep in the person who has been shoplifting or public intoxication or do I keep the person who has been burglarizing or shooting up a neighborhood or dealing drugs?”

Rothenberg said that even while the new bond system is based on a matrix that literally automates the setting and posting of bonds to hasten the initial intake process, judges can still review individual cases to red flag offenders who might not return for court or may commit another crime, resulting in higher or more restrictive bonds.

“The crime itself sets a certain amount of the bond and then there’s questions, a risk assessment that we actually go through that, you know, ‘How many failure to appears do they have? Do they have another pending case? Have they been convicted of a felony? Are they a citizen of Marion County or even a citizen of Indiana?’”

Marion County Prosecutor Terry Curry said its incumbent upon his deputy prosecutors to petition for higher bonds depending on the severity of the criminal charges or the likelihood of the offender to skip court dates.

“We have to affirmatively file a motion for a higher than standard bond on any given defendant if we feel its appropriate to do so otherwise the bond is automatically set,” said Curry. “The people we should be incarcerating either pre-trial or after being convicted are the folks we should be scared of.”

Both Curry and Rothenberg agree that closure of the Arrestee Processing Center last fall and the relocation of the initial intake and booking procedures into the basement of the City County Building has streamlined the frontend of the criminal judicial process and resulted in the utilization of more Community Correction and home detention options as opposed to incarceration of offenders awaiting their first court appearances.

The City County Council is considering Mayor Joe Hogsett’s proposal to build a $590 million community justice campus, including a new jail, sheriffs office and courthouse, on the former Citizens Energy Coke plant site on East Prospect Street.