INDIANAPOLIS — Tanisha King told state lawmakers that when her son was murdered by a teenager in Evansville last spring, she was dumfounded to learn that the suspect was out on bond on a previous gun charge.
”It set a fire underneath me because the boy was 15,” she said. “He just turned 16, and I felt like the justice system let me down because they had him, they had the evidence and everything and then they let him go after five or six months on a $250 bond.”
King was asking state lawmakers the Interim Committee on Corrections and Criminal Code to tighten up bail disparities for juveniles accused of gun crimes in Indiana.
”Gun crime equals jail time,” she said. “We will seek pre-trial detention in all cases if a defendant is arrested with a gun while on state parole or probation. Violation proceedings will be started and back up time will be sought.
The summer committee is charged with examining the disparities and loopholes of Indiana’s bail system as it attempts to navigate juvenile justice, mental health issues and presumption of innocence while protecting both the rights of the accused and the safety of the public.
”One of the things that perplexes me is how we can look across the state of Indiana and see different counties doing different things when it comes to bail,” said State Senator Greg Taylor, a democrat from the westside of Indianapolis.
What is unique to Marion County, and even rare across the country, is the Assessment and Intervention Center opened in December of 2020 at the Community Justice Center campus.
The AIC has 60 beds to temporarily house persons facing police custody who have mental illness or substance abuse issues in order to off ramp them to services before incarceration.
Approximately half of the center’s beds are full due to staffing and utilization setbacks linked to start up struggles during the pandemic.
Eskenazi Mental Health lists 1,779 referrals since the AIC opened its doors with 1,306 clients seeking assessment, resulting in 1,120 stays in the Reuben Engagement Center averaging 3.5 days.
Taylor said Indiana needs more such clinics to avoid sending troubled people into county jails alongside persons charged with crimes.
”You can go from county-to-county across the state of Indiana and you might find one or two beds available for people who have mental health problems,” he said. “What do we do about the rest of those people? What ends up happening is they end up on the street, end up doing something that they probably can’t control their mind to do and then they end up in jail.”
Mayor Joe Hogsett has carved out $2 million in the city’s 2023 budget to pay for around-the-clock clinicians to respond on police or fire runs when a person may be involved in injurious or slightly criminal behavior but may be more suited for transport to the AIC as opposed to the Adult Detention Center.
Access to a reasonable bond is a constitutional right for most crimes in Indiana, designed to assure compliance with court orders and not necessarily as punishment or to protect the public, though in some cases, ”There are some individuals who have a very high cash bond or surety bond because of the fact that the Court deems them to be a danger to themselves or others,” said Courtney Curtis of the Indiana Prosecuting Attorneys Council.
”I think that when we’re talking specifically about pre-trial, what we want to avoid is treating people who are pre-trial like we treat people who are on probation or community corrections for a conviction,” said Mary Kay Hudson of the Indiana Office of Court Services.
The committee is expected to propose at least four bills as the result of its hearings for full legislative consideration during the upcoming General Assembly.