Marion County sheriff welcomes decision not to prosecute certain marijuana cases

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. - Marion County Sheriff Kerry Forestal said people picked up for less than an ounce of marijuana already do not stay in jail for long, and they are often out on bond before going to court.

"About five days turnover, so the fact that they are arrested and processed through, we have to have them see medical, we have them moved through the system, so five days doesn't seem a lot until we start turning over the number of people," Forestal said.

The sheriff said it is costly to house inmates, and the taxpayers pay the price.

"Between the two [jails] about 68 dollars a day for housing for that," Forestal said. "So, if you accumulate that times 365 times 2,400, you're talking a lot of money."

Acting Prosecutor Ryan Mears formally declared his office will not prosecute marijuana possession cases for less than an ounce of pot.

"This does not impact public safety, and that’s why we feel comfortable walking away," Mears said during a news conference on Monday.

Mears said up to 81% of simple possession cases are dismissed anyway.

"One of the first benefits that we think is out there is we really want law enforcement to prioritize violent crime," Mears said. "That’s where their energy, their effort and their focus should be, and the continued prosecution of possession of marijuana takes away from that mission."

Indianapolis Police Chief Bryan Roach issued this statement:

"The women and men of the IMPD remain focused on removing violent offenders from our neighborhoods and addressing the root causes of crime in our community. Discussions with our law enforcement partners will continue following today's announcement to ensure we are doing all we can to build trust with our neighbors and make Indianapolis a safer city."

Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett's office issued this statement:

“Over the last three years, Mayor Hogsett has focused on reforming our community’s criminal justice system, prioritizing treatment for those suffering from challenges related to mental health and addiction. While today’s abrupt announcement by the Marion County Prosecutor’s Office necessitates further discussion between criminal justice partners, it’s clear that our community’s focus should be on holding perpetrators of violent crime accountable and keeping those who don't belong in jail, out.”

Indiana Attorney General Curtis Hill issued this statement:

“I respect and support the fact that prosecutors have absolute discretion in deciding when to file criminal charges and how to allocate their resources. Typically, though, prosecutors carefully exercise this discretion on a case-by-case basis rather than proclaiming that in all cases they will ignore a particular state law not to their liking. I am concerned that this proclamation in Marion County will attract to Indianapolis people with a particular interest in communities where drug enforcement is lax. It seems to me a curious strategy to put out a welcome mat for lawbreakers in a community already facing challenges related to crime, homelessness and other social problems stemming from drug abuse.”

Marion County Sheriff Kerry Forestal issued this statement:

“The new jail, currently under construction as a part of the Justice Complex, is not designed to hold many more inmates than are currently held between the combined public and private jails today. City leaders have repeatedly stated that we need to find ways to use fewer jail cells, and not more. To accomplish that, we have to change arresting procedures, which includes the diversion of addicts and the mentally ill into the health care system. As Marion County Sheriff, I welcome Prosecutor Ryan Mears’ decision not to file charges for Possession of Marijuana. Working together, we must commit to having the dangerous people in Jail, and focus our efforts on Marion County’s most violent criminals.”

Marion County prosecutor candidate Tim Moriarty issued this statement:

"Truly reforming our county's criminal justice system will require a holistic approach, and there's no doubt that the enforcement of marijuana possession charges have created inequity -- especially for communities of color. While I appreciate the Marion County Prosecutor's Office's abrupt change of course on this policy today, I believe it is critical we treat this step forward as the continuation of a journey, not the end.

"If elected Marion County Prosecutor on Saturday, I would keep this change in policy in place and work alongside the community to analyze its effects. But I do believe this new approach will only be successful if it is implemented alongside significant investments in treatment for substance abuse and mental health challenges.

Righting the wrongs of the past will require more than the exercise of prosecutorial discretion -- it will require an office focused on prosecutorial action on behalf of our community."

The Indianapolis Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) issued this statement:

“Today we learned of the decision of the Acting Prosecutor to not prosecute misdemeanor violations of possession of marijuana in Marion County.

Our collective rank and file had no prior indication of this decision and we are trying to ascertain if others within the criminal justice community and city county government were aware of this move beforehand.

Such an across the board decision not only impacts our local community, but has implications for jurisdictions throughout our region and state.

While we recognize and value prosecutorial discretion, our law enforcement officers have significant concerns anytime a single person elects to unilaterally not enforce a state law as a matter of practice or policy.

We are attempting to better understand the basis for this decision and any potential unintended outcomes. In the interim, it is our understanding the IMPD Chief of Police has directed Officers to continue to enforce the laws as proscribed by the State of Indiana and we strongly concur.”

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