Consultant’s report calls for jail, court changes in Marion County

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. — Marion County’s criminal justice system is plagued by computers that don’t talk to one another, a lack of long term data to provide total historical comparisons, a crowded outdated jail and an inefficient system from arrest to booking to incarceration to court.

BKD National Governmental Group delivered an eagerly anticipated 87-page report titled, “Jail Capacity Data Analytics Strategic Plan for the City of Indianapolis-Marion County,” to the Criminal Justice Planning Council on which Mayor Joe Hogsett, Prosecutor Terry Curry and Sheriff John Layton serve.

The draft report, issued Thursday, found that approximately 39,000 people were arrested in Marion County last year and on average day the county’s incarceration facilities are near capacity of 2,500 inmates.

More than 100 offenders serving state sentences at the local level are being housed in Elkhart County due to Marion County’s jail crowding crisis.

13% of inmates account for 83% of all jail days, according to the report, with misdemeanor defendants charged with the least serious crimes spending an average of 30 days in jail at a cost ranging from $46-83 daily.

According to an earlier study, 84% of the people locked up in Marion County in June of 2014 were awaiting trial compared with the national rate of 66%.

The BKD report found various software programs utilized by the courts, jail, public defenders, prosecutors and community corrections staff don’t fully communicate with one another and make it difficult to track offenders through the system.

Sheriff Layton reports that 40% of the inmates housed in his facilities are diagnosed with mental illness issues. While finding that 950 inmates match that classification, Layton has said his jail is the largest mental health care residential facility in the state of Indiana, handing out 700 prescriptions a day.

The sheriff’s office determined it spends an extra $10 a day caring for mentally ill inmates as opposed to offenders in the general population.

The BKD study found that while Marion County’s data bases don’t contain sufficient information to support the sheriff’s finding that four out of ten inmates suffer from mental illness conditions, those statistics are in line with national estimates.

There are limited options for such offenders, according to the report, often dubbed “frequent flyers” for their repeated arrests, which leads to the “revolving door” of expensive incarceration and justice that could be found cheaper in community corrections or treatment facilities.

Some progress has been made with the establishment of the Marion County Mental Health Alternative Court and the training of IMPD officers in crisis intervention techniques to recognize and refer individuals with mental illness challenges.

One suggestion would be to conduct extensive mental health evaluations at the Arrestee Processing Center to divert offenders to treatment programs before they enter the jail system.

Liberty Hall, an incarceration facility on East Washington Street that has been utilized in the past to house both state and local inmates, could fulfill such a mission.

BKD estimated that mental health diversions could save Marion County $1.2 million.

Many of the system stakeholders surveyed for the BKD report expressed a lack of confidence in Marion County’s pre-trial options to divert and monitor offenders from the system while such a pre-trial release evaluation tool ranked high on the list of potential solutions, along with earlier mental health screening and diversion, community corrections evaluation and case progress assessment through the Superior Court system.

Earlier this year, Marion County Community Corrections and Marion County Superior Court Probation combined to oversee 870 offenders awaiting trial while the report points out that MCCC and Probation are intended as post-trial, not pre-trial, monitoring systems.

The report determines it typically costs $13 per day to monitor a defendant on community corrections as opposed to an average cost of $82 for every day that offender spends behind bars in Marion County, though there is a perceived risk that such an offender could commit another crime while awaiting trial and judges expressed reservations about public criticism that would follow in the wake of such a high profile incident.

The report found that greater utilization of community corrections pre-trial monitoring could save Marion County $3.9 million.

BKD found inmates unable to make bail spend an average of 49 days in the Marion County Jail awaiting trial and recommends that a revamp of the bail process might reduce incarceration costs and simply giving arrestees access to their cell phones to call friends, relatives or bail agencies could result in more timely pre-trial releases.

The Marion County Prosecutors Office filed 22% more major felony cases in the last year, necessitating a more cumbersome process to detain and try serious violent crime offenders and perhaps it is time to consider establishment of another felony court, according to the report.

Increased use of summonses for low level crimes would further reduce the intake at the APC as nearly one in four cases now results in charges being dropped.

Mayor Hogsett has called for criminal justice system reform with an eye on an announcement by the end of this year regarding a proposed new county jail.

Last year a proposed $400 million privately financed criminal justice facility, leased back to the county at a cost of $1.7 billion over thirty years, by Hogsett’s predecessor Greg Ballard was withdrawn due to a lack of public and political support.

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