Stuck in the system: Records show innocent people stay in jail

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. - In America, we expect freedom, no one has the right to put you in jail or keep you in jail for no reason.

But in Marion County, “going free” doesn’t always mean you get out of jail.

Our CBS 4 investigation found It’s not uncommon for someone to sit in jail for days, even after the court says they should be free.

It’s costing you a lot of money and it’s happening to innocent people.

“Just because you`re arrested doesn`t mean you`re guilty," Gregory Harris said.

Harris had a rap sheet with his name on it and didn`t know until a deputy pulled him over this past June.

“To our mutual surprise, in the system it said I had an arrest warrant out,” Harris said.

A traffic ticket from back in 2012, he says he paid, triggered a warrant for his arrest.

“I got a speeding ticket or something like that. I had taken care of it by mail,” he said.

Harris hired an attorney, who went to a judge. Court documents show the warrant was withdrawn.

In other words, it was canceled by the judge the same day.

“The judge was just like fine, case dismissed,” he said.

So, Harris wants to know why he didn`t get the okay to walk out of jail before he spent another day behind bars.

Harris said, “They call my name and I’m like `Yay, that must be it.’ but what they did is they took us to the Marion county jail and I got booked into a cell. You know, with the uniform, got the nice orange jumpsuit and everything.”

“And I didn`t know when I would get out,” he said.

You would think Gregory’s case is an exception to the rule.

“This is happening on a daily basis in this county. And it needs to stop,” said attorney Richard Waples.

Waples is suing Marion County and Sheriff John Layton.

He`s representing five men who claim they were ordered out, but sat in confinement day after day.

“One of them was in jail awaiting trial. Had a jury trial, was found not guilty,” Waples said. “And waited two days until he was released."

In this response to the lawsuit the sheriff’s attorney admitted Waples’ client was found not guilty one day, but wasn’t released until two days later.

And admitted in another case, a man was ordered released on Dec. 15, “brought back to the jail” and not set free until two days later on the 17th.

“Courts were going crazy on this, calling over to the sheriff’s department, faxing orders, sending couriers with the orders to release people because they’re getting calls from people’s families saying ‘hey, my guy was released from jail,’” said Waples.

A study found inmates who should be free spent 38,000 extra days in jail in just six months in 2014.

And you paid for it.

“You have to pay people to secure them. You have to feed them. You have to clothe them. You have to pay for their medical care. Every inmate costs money and so everyday they`re in jail is costing us as taxpayers more money,” Waples said.

The county`s jail contract we obtained pays a contractor at least $35 a day per inmate.

At that rate, those 38,000 extra days cost you at least $1.3 million.

So what`s the problem? Waples points to computers.

The software here at the judge’s clerk’s office doesn`t communicate well with the computers at the jail.

So when these clerks type in a release order, what should take minutes to alert the jail, can takes days longer.

Waples said, “They screwed up big time.”

Waples blames the sheriff.

“He got this software system for free. He didn`t vet it. And didn`t cost him anything, but it`s costing a lot of people their liberty,” said Waples.

It`s so bad, all the superior court judges wrote the sheriff asking him to buy a new software system to "decrease holding defendants in jail after the court orders their release."

Superior Court Judge Mark Stoner said, “It`s not a suggestion that somebody release. It`s an order.”

Still two years since that letter.  “It`s not uncommon,” said Stoner.

And it`s a violation of your rights as an American says Stoner.

“It`s a matter of individual freedom and liberty,” Stoner said.

Freedom and liberty guaranteed by law, but not in reality, if you ask Gregory Harris.

“It really strikes me as inexcusable that the wheels take so long to turn," Harris said.

We wanted to ask sheriff Layton why is this happening?

His spokesperson emailed CBS4 to decline the interview since there’s a pending lawsuit. When this is all over you could pay a lot more.

If the county loses this class action lawsuit, thousands of inmates could each get paid for days they should’ve never spent in jail.

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