New jail could possibly hold fewer inmates

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind.– Mayor Joe Hogsett heard partial results of a consultant’s report that would indicate a smaller offender population is possible in a new correction center to replace Marion County’s aging jail and keep costs down.

Colonel Louis Dezelan of the Marion County Sheriff’s Office told the Criminal Justice Planning Council that Monday’s inmate population was 2,460, up significantly from a possibly inaccurate sheriff’s claim last week but below the jail system capacity of 2,507.

Hogsett has assigned a task force to study the county’s criminal justice system, from arrest through prosecution to sentencing and incarceration, and take a comprehensive holistic view of the way Marion County processes and houses those who violate the law.

Last year, Former Mayor Greg Ballard put forth an ultimately failed plan to construct a nearly $500 million criminal justice center complex on the site of the former GM Stamping Plant on the banks of the White River, financed and built by a private developer and leased back to the county for 30 years at a cost in excess of $1.7 billion.

Hogsett thinks a more modest jail, with attendant reforms of the system, could be accomplished for less. He’s banking on the task force report to support his goal by the end of the year.

Mike Brink of BKD CPAs & Advisors told the council that stakeholders will have a report to review within the next month.

BKD was charged with reviewing data from the current system and searching best practices nationally to determine if Marion County can find efficiencies.

Brink told the council a study of national literature determined that it is possible to reduce jail population, especially among the mentally ill, and that placing more offenders on home detention or in Community Corrections before their trials would significantly lessen the inmate count.

The Marion County study found that so-called “frequent flyers” present a disproportionate burden on the jail and court system.

Four percent of all arrestees who passed through the jail more than twice in the last three years accounted for 11 percent of the overall volume of court appearances.

Those who have been arrested five times or more, .4 percent of the aggregate in-custody population, accounted for two percent of the overall volume of court appearances.

Dezelan reported that more aggressive assignment to Community Corrections of offenders by judges had played a significant role in holding the inmate population below its court-mandated limit as well as the transfer of 90 inmates serving state prisons at the local level to the Elkhart County Jail.

Court staff at the Arrestee Processing Center has also taken it upon itself to dispense of more offenders, said Dezelan, through bonds or release of Own Recognizance, negating the time and bed consuming wait to appear before a judge or magistrate.

So far in 2016, a little over half of all arrested persons at the APC have gone before a judge. That percentage is down significantly from last year.

Progress on study of a new jail for Marion County comes as the sheriff’s office exams a report issued by a task force which reviewed in-custody suicides of inmates and offered suggestions on how to reduce them.

Dezelan reminded CBS4 that while there were a handful of suicides in the jail last year, none of them were of inmates on suicide watch.

Sheriff John Layton accepted the findings of the task force, headed up by former Public Safety Director Dr. David Wantz of the University of Indianapolis, that called for appointment of a Jail Suicide Prevention Coordinator, instituting a suicide prevention hotline and protocols and additional training for both jail staff and inmates that would emphasize reporting of suicide concerns.

“It may mean tolerating a little insubordination in order to prevent, be vigilant, and intervene with self-harming behaviors,” read the report which foresees resistance in the jail’s command structure.

“A zero tolerance approach to deaths in custody may require a change in culture as well,” found the report. “Every officer must be able to observe and intervene knowing that he or she will be respected and appreciated for making constructive suggestions.”

“The current jail is antiquated, crowded and not conducive,” in preventing suicides, according to the report, which makes recommendations for a more open design of a new jail and changes in isolation cells and practices as well as body-worn cameras by corrections deputies.

Layton said he has insisted upon a “zero tolerance policy” regarding jail suicides that calls for more active tracking of the health records of mentally unstable offenders and their current sentence and incarceration environment to identify at-risk inmates who might be prone to harming themselves.

The report suggestions the sheriff’s office reach out to various universities and health professionals in central Indiana for input on reducing jail suicides.

Dezelan has said the jail is chronically short-staffed, though there is no indication that a lack of personnel contributes to the inmate suicide issue.

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