No Vacancy: Officials Still Mulling Ways to Relieve Inmate Overcrowding

Local News

After transferring 30 inmates to neighboring county jails in order to relieve overcrowding at the Vanderburgh County Detention Center, Sheriff Dave Wedding, the prosecutor’s office and local judges are mulling their long term options to address a burgeoning inmate population.

The 30 inmates that were transferred to the Pike and Daviess County jails are considered non-Department of Corrections eligible, Sheriff Wedding said. With the recent re-write of the state’s criminal code, offenders convicted of low level felonies whose sentences are less than 360 days are required to serve their sentences at county jails instead of state prisons. There is an average of 50 non-DOC eligible inmates at the county jail, Sheriff Wedding said.

To date, there have been more than 3600 bookings at the facility, which is projected to have more than 9100 bookings in 2016. Earlier this month, a new record was set with 680 inmates housed at the Vanderburgh County jail.

With the summer months approaching, traditionally considered to be the more active months in terms of crime, Sheriff Wedding doesn’t expect the inmate population to decrease substantially any time soon.

“No one has the golden answer that is going to solve this immediately,” Sheriff Wedding said. “I wish we did but no one has it.”

Built to house more than roughly 550 inmates, the jail has at or near capacity at various points since 2012. In May 2013, the average number of inmates at the Vanderburgh County Detention Center was 547. The average dipped a bit in May 2014 with 522 inmates. It rose again in 2015 with an average of 558 inmates. The costs of feeding that number of inmates three meals a day, every day, is substantial.

To date, the average inmate population for May 2016 is 662. The average length of stay at the Vanderburgh County Detention Center is 19 days.

Sheriff Wedding said a small part of the problem is the criminal code re-write which brought low level felons to county jails in order to serve out their sentences. However, that segment of the inmate population will only increase as more offenders have their cases adjudicated.

While the changes have brought problems for jails in Vanderburgh, Vigo and Marion counties — just to name a few — the criminal code re-write has benefitted the state. According to the most recent monthly report from the Indiana Department of Corrections, the total population at DOC facilities has dropped precipitously since the criminal code re-write took effect.

“We are going to look for other solutions. As far as what we can do to get immediate relief, it’s going to be tough,” Sheriff Wedding said. “It’s going to be a challenge for us but we are working together.”

A consortium of local law enforcement and judges has been meeting regularly, Sheriff Wedding said. Among the potential long term options are lower bonds for people accused of non-violent crimes, more offenders sentenced to community corrections and the expanded use of electronic home monitoring.

However, Sheriff Wedding said more offenders sentenced to community corrections will only slightly help. According to the sheriff’s office, the number of inmates on work release or community corrections has also increased. For example, there was an average of 75 work release inmates in May 2015.

To date, there has been an average of 100 work release inmates. In fact, there was an average of 82 work release inmates in 2015. So far this year, the average is 105.

Additionally, pre-trial diversion programs like drug treatment court have been maxed out, Prosecutor Nick Hermann said.

For Sheriff Wedding, the crux of the issue is the balance of public sentiment, financial reality and a duty to protect the community. 

“If they steal from you; if they break into your home; if they molest your child; if they drive drunk and injure somebody in your family and you ask [victims], ‘what would you like to have happen to this offender?’ They’d say they want them incarcerated,” Sheriff Wedding said. “A jail is one of those things that people forget about unless they’re a victim of a crime.”

Before the jail was built, Wedding recalled plans for a larger facility were scrapped by the County Council. Sheriff Wedding acknowledged that an expansion of the jail might be inevitable. Sheriff Wedding said he hopes a potential expansion of the facility would include a specialized area to deal with mentally ill inmates. Because it’s a jail and not a mental hospital, such inmates often don’t receive the necessary treatment and therapy, Sheriff Wedding said.

Sheriff Wedding said he would welcome a visit from state lawmakers so they can understand the issue better.

“I would like to see them come down here with a known problem and let’s address it,” Sheriff Wedding said. “They should be able to find money and earmark it to help solve some of these problems. We wouldn’t send a fire truck to a house fire with an empty tank of water or with no fire hoses. You have to have them.”

According to statistics compiled by the sheriff’s office, the most frequent charge in 2015 was a warrant or failure to appear in court. There were 1061 such cases last year. The second most prominent charge was a drug-related offense with a total of 893. The third most frequently charged offense was a petition to revoke probation.

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