SPECIAL COVERAGE: 103rd Running of the Indianapolis 500

Jail population lowest since March 2015

File photo.

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind.  –  As of 9:00 a.m. Monday, the population of the Marion County Jail was at its lowest level since March of 2015.

The reduction in the inmate count comes as an independent audit reveals the depth of the manpower, financial and operational challenges the next Marion County sheriff will face.

During the monthly meeting of the Criminal Justice Planning Council, sheriff’s officials reported the daily population count stood at 2,228 in three-unit system built to hold 2507 beds.

The sheriff’s report did not indicate any local inmates were serving their time at other county jails, a commonplace measure the last couple years as the Marion County system was consistently at a capacity level.

The count includes 301 inmates serving their state sentences locally as a result of an Indiana Department of Correction offender reduction strategy that was not in effect three-and-a-half years ago.

Sheriff’s officials credit a seasonal slump over the winter months and during the holidays, as well as streamlined criminal justice reform efforts by the courts, the Marion County Prosecutor and Office of Public Defender for combining to lower the jail population.

30% of the inmates in the Marion County Jail are the lowest level of felony offenders, 40% of all those incarcerated have mental illness issues and 85% are substance addicted.

Those issues will play an important role in the 2022 transition to a new $580 million Community Justice Center on the city’s east side that outgoing Marion County Sheriff John Layton told the council will be watched closely, not only throughout Indiana, but across the nation by sheriffs and local officials who are themselves facing jail overcrowding challenges.

Upon retirement on Jan. 1, Layton assumes the full-time role as President of the National Sheriffs’ Association.

Though the CJC will be built to hold 3,000 beds, planners have designed a campus that will off-ramp mentally ill and substance addicted offenders to an Assessment and Intervention Center, thus reducing Marion County’s jail population.

Currently mental health social workers inside the jail are encountering inmates in need of services and referring them for treatment upon release, thus reducing the potential for offenders to re-enter the system.

Tyler Bouma, Director of the Duvall Residential Facility, told the Council that his site currently has 281 men serving their sentences in work release, while Community Correction has 2843 offenders serving their terms on home detention while tethered to electronic monitoring and another 1187 defendants are on GPS monitoring while awaiting trial.

Marion County leads the nation in home detention monitoring, an issue bail reform advocates acknowledge holds down the jail population yet sets up offenders for minor rules violations that could potentially land them back behind bars.

The Bail Project, a New York-based pre-trial incarceration alternative program, is expected to add Indianapolis to its list of cities eligible for expansion of funding and services to provide bail for offenders accused of relatively minor crimes who face loss of family, jobs and homes because of their inability to post relatively low bond amounts.

Council members also heard the final report from KPMG, an auditor hired to examine a handful of issues impacting MCSO operations and finances.

The report, which will be released to a City-County Council committee Wednesday, found that the MCSO jail deputy turnover rate is 44%, about twice the national average, as Marion County’s pay scale for both merit deputies and detention officers lags behind several other counties in central Indiana.

As a result of the high turnover in both the jail and dispatch divisions, the sheriff spent $5 million last year in overtime costs.

The report recommends higher pay, a review in overtime policies, improved staffing management and better utilization of data to inform decisions.

When Layton retires after two terms as sheriff, he will be replaced by Col. Kerry Forestal who declined comment pending a more thorough reading of the audit report.

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