Effectiveness of Marion County Community Corrections’ electronic monitoring in question

Indianapolis Area Crime

INDIANAPOLIS — Whether post-conviction or pre-trial, there are more people wearing electronic monitors in Indianapolis than nearly anywhere else in the country.

Pre-pandemic, there were roughly 400 more people on GPS monitors than Cook County, Illinois, where Chicago is located.

A FOX59 investigation found people were charged with new crimes, including murder, while out on bond wearing electronic monitors. Records show many others were arrested for new crimes while serving their sentences.

“There’s always the chance that someone will be out on bond and commit some horrific offense,” Marion County Superior Court Judge Mark Stoner said. “That’s always the judge’s nightmare.”

Kaylia and Chanel Richardson believe that is exactly what happened to their sister, Ashley.

Court documents confirm Kendale Abel beat Ashley Richardson multiple times with a hammer on May 2 of 2020. He was charged with three lower-level felonies and a misdemeanor. 

Despite a 2014 plea deal on a gun charge, a Marion County judge still let him out on bond and GPS monitoring.

“It should have been a way harsher punishment, and bail shouldn’t have even been on the table,” Chanel said.

A month later on June 9 of 2020, Ashley was dead, and Abel was charged with her murder. Police said he shot her to death.

Marion County Community Corrections Executive Director Scott Hohl said his team did everything they could. The killing happened in a home Abel and Ashley shared at one time.

“Had he left the home, we would have gotten that alert, and we could have addressed it then. But unfortunately being in a home, nothing would have shown up for us,” Hohl explained.

Kaylia and Chanel said Abel lured their sister back to the house. Again, they thought he should await his trial in jail.

“Everyone knows how it works,” Chanel said. “A woman nine times out of 10 are gonna go back to the men, and then something like this happens.”

Marion County Superior Court Judge Mark Stoner hears major felony cases and makes decisions on sentencing. He was not a part of Abel’s case but said in general, judges must weigh public safety and the likelihood the person charged will show up for court dates before agreeing to home detention with GPS monitoring. 

Stoner does not feel judges get enough verified information before making their decisions on bond, but he did say there are more details available now than in the past.

“The decision we’re making is largely based on information that we’re getting on paper,” Stoner explained. “We’re getting a probable cause affidavit that’s written by a police officer. We’re looking at a criminal history that is just a title and a result where we don’t know the facts of individual cases.”

In Marion County, probation services monitor those defendants who are awaiting their trials on electronic monitoring. For those serving their post-conviction sentences on monitoring, MCCC is in charge.

Community corrections monitored just over 4,000 people in 2020 pre-COVID. Then in January of this year, the county’s probation department took over 1,700 pre-trial cases and now monitors them instead of MCCC. Community corrections still tracks 1,847 people.

“I think even prior when community corrections had 4,000 cases, we were able to provide all the case management and supervision necessary, but it certainly put a strain on our staff and on our resources,” Hohl said.

Here is what the numbers show: in 2020, 2,699 tracking devices were turned back into MCCC. 1,916 were turned back in successfully at the City-County Building and the Duvall Residential Center.

But the other 793 devices were found elsewhere. MCCC said they were sometimes removed at the hospital, sometimes returned from the morgue and other times they were abandoned.

“The number where they do cut the device off, and we lose track of them, obviously we file warrants on those individuals,” Hohl said. “It’s a smaller percentage where we both don’t know where the device is or where the client, we completely lose any kind of track with them.”

Hohl said there is concern that many are found in places they were not meant to be found.

“Yeah, I mean obviously our goal is public safety,” Hohl said. “So anytime we lose track of an individual for any amount of time, even if it’s a short period until we can maintain communication with them or get back in communication with them, or if it’s an extended period and we know they’ve cut their device, we locate the device and the person’s gone, we’ve filed a warrant.

“Those are certainly concerning to us because they were sentenced to electronic monitoring for a reason.”

MCCC has four field team case managers and a supervisor. This unit is tasked with checking on the clients through unannounced field visits. According to the 2020 annual report, the field teams have an 83% successful contact rate. A successful contact is measured by the field teams making face-to-face contact with the person, a family member, neighbor, employer, work release employer or others.

The field team is also in charge of notifying victims of the offenders whose equipment malfunctions or if there’s a “strap tamper.” This notification happens when a client has gone unmonitored for 24 hours and a welfare check by IMPD “is not successful,” according to the annual report.

Data is also an ongoing issue, one officials say takes money to fix. For MCCC, Hohl said there needs to be an established recidivism rate.

“I think all of our public safety partners would struggle with determining what a recidivism rate is because we don’t have easy access to each other’s data to know, ‘Yes, they left my program, but they were rearrested six months later,'” Hohl said.

Stoner said MCCC and pre-trial services need more funding for data collection indicating whether monitoring and programs are actually successful at rehabilitating people and preventing them from committing more crimes.

“We know that we aren’t giving sufficient funding to probation, community corrections resources for what we need for a city this large,” Stoner said.

Solutions for the system cannot come soon enough for families like the Richardsons.

“How are you monitoring people?” Chanel questioned. “How is this protecting people? Why are we still letting people out on GPS monitoring?”

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