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  • Writer's pictureBill Raines

Editorial: Jail Overcrowding is not a new Problem in the State of Indiana

LAWRENCE COUNTY - AUGUST 2, 2O23 - Indiana's jail overcrowding is not a unique problem in Indiana and has been on issue over the last several years.


Photo: A justice study in Lawrence County calls for a new jail facility, the present jail was built in 1990 and had issues from the start when the county commissioners at the time signed off on the facility


Indiana is among the top five states with the most jail growth according to Vera Institute of Justice released its publication called " What Jails Cost Statewide in Indiana"


According to the report in 2019, Lawrence County spent at least $1,675,789 on the local jail. This is 7 percent of the county's total budget and approximately $37 per resident.


From 1980 to 2019, Indiana jail incarceration rate increased 499 percent with the rise of mass incarceration, poor and working people. The report suggests whether white, Black or Brown have been harmed by a justice system that criminalizes poverty.


The number of women in jails have increased 1,258 percent, from 181 women in jail in 1980 to 2,457 in 2015, women made up 16 percent of the statewide jail population and 23 percent of the county jail population.


From decertation to reinvestment county budgets can be opaque documents that are difficult to compare.


In fiscal year 2019, Lawrence County received $212,312 to house the State Department of Corrections inmates.


Photo: Rep. Chris May legislation to help jail overcrowding has not helped yet due to policy changes at the Indiana Department of Corrections


On January 21, 2022, Rep. Chris May co-authored legislation to help address jail overcrowding and boost resources to fight crime.


In H.B. 1004 is gave Judges the flexibility to send Level - 6 Felons to the Indiana Department of Corrections. County jails were only meant for short-term jail stays.


A recent report by the Indiana Criminal Justice Institute showed more than 75 percent off all felony criminal filings in 2021 were Level-6 felonies. Many of those charges were substance abuse related, possession of meth, or OWI.


According to the Indiana Criminal Justice Institute says that 77 percent of Indiana jails are overcrowded or at capacity. Alleviating county jail overcrowding issues will help locals redirect resources to where they matter most.


At the present time with the policy shift at the Indiana Department of Corrections the measures taken by the Indiana legislature does not seem to be working at this time.


Counties in Indiana bear the cost of incarcerating people held under local authority, who include Unconvicted people awaiting trial and people serving out misdemeanor sentences locally, reducing the jail population would lean to an immediate reduction in a county's variable expenses.


This can be achieved by reducing the use of pre-trial detention, reducing or eliminating probation revocations, and reducing or eliminating jail sentences. In subsequent years, the opportunity to recalibrate the budget could lead to savings could be redirected towards other types of investments that better promote community safety, including alternatives to incarceration, affordable housing, and treatment for mental illness and substance abuse.


A large portion of those arrested are for petition to revoke violations or failure to appear with only five of Lawrence County Probation officers are paid the county, the remaining 15 probation officers are paid by grant funds.


Photo: After the closure of Fayetteville School Lawrence and Martin County officials along with more than 30 non-profits tried to get a grant to house juveniles


In 2020, after the closure of Fayetteville Elementary School more than 30 non-profits and Lawrence County Justice partners considered using a grant to make a Juvenile Detention Center. Lawrence County was to partner with Martin County officials in using this as a Regional Detention Center for youth.


The grant for the Juvenile Detention center never materialized and the Fayetteville Community was opposed at the idea of the school being turned into a juvenile detention center.


The Justice Study in 2021 suggests building a new jail facility with the final cost to taxpayers at $60 Million.


The Justice Study additionally calls for Anah Gouty to serve as a magistrate to help with the rising number of court cases in the county.


Photo: Lawrence County Justice partners are wanting a justice complex to put all of the justice offices in one building or campus. The cost for this type of have not been determined at this time.


The Justice Study also calls for a Justice Complex to move all justice partners into one campus, not necessarily one building. This would mean that the Superior Courts, Prosecutors Office, Probation, Community Corrections and the county jail will be on one campus together. The cost of those offices was never studied, or cost estimates added to the current study requested by the Lawrence County Commissioners.


Photo: Jackson County has already outgrown their jail facility and closed their juvenile detention center to house more adult inmates


The local justice partners did work to try and get the jail population reduced over the last six months. The Indiana Department of Corrections policy shifted and now according to Lawence County Sheriff Greg Day the jail population continues to rise until more than 20 inmates can be transferred to the state prison system.


Photo: Lawrence County Sheriff Greg Day talks about increase in jail population


The Lawrence County Jail has a rated capacity at 180 beds with 144 dedicated to males, and 36 beds for females.


The length of stay at the Lawrence County Jail has increased in the last eight years to 47 percent. There were a total of six Level -6 Felons housed at the Lawrence County Jail over the last several years with the passage of House Bill 1006.


Females offenders at the Lawrence County Jail have increased over the past ten years.


The Lawrence County Jail was constructed in 1990 for 88 beds with operational capacity at 70 beds. The jail was double bunked in 1992 to increase the bed count to 168.


The current facility has met it lifespan, with most correctional facilities have a lifespan of 20 years due to several factors which include inmates abuse of the facility and being open 24 hours a day.


There are plumbing fixtures, doors, and locks, HVAC equipment some of the components have become obsolete and no longer manufactured. Parts that have to be customed made are now very expensive.


According to the recent study the challenges presented will be best accommodated with a new facility and cannot be remedied through additional renovations. No explanation was given on why the facility could not be upgraded at its current location or cost estimates on what renovation costs would be.


The proposed new jail facility is estimated at a cost of $35 Million in hard costs, with an additional cost of $7 Million in soft costs. The bond at the time of payoff would cost the taxpayers approximately $60 Million.


In order to construct a new jail a bond, and Public Safety Jail Tax would have to be issued to build a new correctional facility or renovate the current one. Several upgrades at the current facility is needed whether a new jail or renovation are done.


Several counties throughout the state have constructed new correctional facilities and some by federal court orders.


For breaking news, news and information go to lczpehyr.org or like/follow the Lawrence County Zephyr Facebook page.


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