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Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Ind. Gov't. - "Counties under extra pressure after criminal sentencing reforms"

That is the heading to this long editorial today in the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette. It begins:

The Indiana General Assembly took on a tough balancing act when it tackled a criminal sentencing overhaul in 2013. The goal was to make punishments more proportional to the crimes, to ensure the most serious offenders received longer sentences and to keep drug addicts and low-level offenders out of the state corrections system and in more cost-effective community programs.

Three years later, the population of local jails is growing while the numbers at the Indiana Department of Correction are declining. But the cost savings the state planned to pass on to local government haven’t materialized. State officials say it’s still too soon to see savings, but legislative budget leaders would be wise to reconsider the math in case the fiscal calculation was flawed. County government needs time to respond to both growing numbers of offenders and the money needed for housing and treatment.

Niki Kelly’s report last week showed the Department of Correction has seen the number of adult offenders fall by 17 percent since July 2014, when the revised sentencing guidelines went into effect. A second adjustment, keeping the lowest level of offenders out of the state system, went into effect Jan. 1.

The effects are obvious at the local level. The Allen County Jail began nearing its 741-inmate capacity almost immediately. Allen County Sheriff David Gladieux said last month the population of the jail was fluctuating around the maximum number every day. Last year, there were as many as 100 empty beds. The jail has some flexibility in housing inmates in a transitional “lock-up” area, and in housing three inmates in cells built for two.

Marion County, however, is in “crisis mode,” according to Sheriff Louis Dezelan. The three jails there would have surpassed maximum capacity had the Marion County Sheriff’s Office not moved inmates to Elkhart County and to jails in Kentucky.

The conclusion:
The General Assembly’s goals in 2013 were worthy, but implementation is the key. The budget calculations that determined cost savings at the Department of Correction level could pay for grants to local government might have been too optimistic. Legislative leaders need to act immediately to ensure resources are available. If the goal was to keep low-level offenders in the community, with less-costly services, it makes no sense for Marion County to be forced to transfer inmates out of state or even to Elkhart County.

Even more troubling is the continuing pressure to build more state prison cells. Lawmakers might have miscalculated the effect of giving judges more discretion in sentencing. If judicial officials aren’t comfortable with alternatives to prison, it’s time to take another look at sentencing reform.

Here is Niki Kelly's May 13th FWJG story, headed "No savings seen yet in state prisoner shift." Some quotes:
INDIANAPOLIS – The Indiana Department of Correction is enjoying a steady drop in the number of adult offenders at the same time local jails are seeing an increase.

The shift is part of a plan by lawmakers to revise the sentencing system and divert low-level offenders out of prison and into local jails or programs.

But the state apparently isn’t saving any money – cash that was supposed to be passed on to help local units of government with increased costs.

“Not enough time has passed to be able to determine what cost-savings have been achieved at this time,” DOC Chief Communications Officer Doug Garrison said. “We will carefully monitor this as the months go on and try to gauge what, if any, savings can be realized after this law has had time to go into effect.”

Monthly snapshot reports on the DOC population show since Jan. 1 the adult population has dropped by 617, or 2.3 percent. Since July 1, 2015, the DOC population has dropped by more than 1,100 or 4 percent.

Overall, the reduction is more than 5,000 inmates – or 17 percent – since the initial law went into effect in July 2014.

Part of the drop is due to reconfiguring sentences so that non-violent offenders serve less time and violent offenders serve more. And part is due to the Department of Correction no longer accepting Level 6 felonies – the lowest category – as of Jan. 1.

Rep. Greg Steuerwald, R-Avon, said by the end of the year the drop should be 5,700 inmates.

“Eventually, if this population holds we would have to look at closing a DOC facility,” he said, although DOC is yet to report any savings. And the department last year was asking the legislature for tens of millions to build another prison.

Meanwhile, some local jails – especially in urban areas – are seeing an uptick in holding the Level 6 offenders they are now statutorily required to house rather than DOC. That number has jumped from 342 at the beginning of the year to more than 1,000.

See also this May 10th ILB post, "Overcrowding puts Marion County Jail in 'crisis mode,'" and this May 13th story from the Goshen News, reported by John Kline, headed "New influx of Marion County inmates could mean big payday for Elkhart County: Sheriff says 141 prisoners from Indy area will bring in an extra $2M in revenue."

Posted by Marcia Oddi on May 17, 2016 09:22 AM
Posted to Indiana Government