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Marion County seeks to relieve jail's overcrowding problem

May 10, 2016

Marion County Sheriff Col. Louis Dezelan said the county's jail is in "crisis mode" due to inmate overcrowding, and officials expect the problem to only get worse in the summer when crime tends to spike.

County officials have come up with a temporary solution, but it could be an expensive one if it continues long term. The county is paying other counties in Indiana and Kentucky to house defendants in their jails, The Indianapolis Star reported.

The overcrowding problem at the Marion County Jail stems from rising violent crime in Indianapolis and a state law that sends low-level offenders from state prisons to county jails, according to county officials.

The county's law-enforcement leaders and some City-County Council members met Monday afternoon to discuss the problem. No long-term solutions were proposed at the meeting, but jail officials said they're seeking a rental space for inmate overflow.

When an emergency proposal allowing some inmates to be released early was brought up by Marion County Prosecutor Terry Curry, his idea was set aside with little discussion.

As of Monday, the Marion County Jail was responsible for 2,529 inmates, but its three facilities were holding only 2,507 inmates. The other 54 inmates are being held in other counties at a cost of $40 per inmate per day.

"If you send 100 inmates a year (to other counties), that is well over a million dollars," Dezelan said last month at a meeting of the Criminal Justice Planning Council, a group of local law enforcement leaders chaired by Curry. "We don't have that money budgeted."

Furthermore, the temporary fix opened up only 32 free beds across the three facilities, which still leaves Marion County Jail at more than 95 percent capacity.

Jail officials would like to see the facilities operating well under maximum capacity.

At the meeting Monday, Dezelan said the Marion County Sheriff's Office is looking into the possibility of renting beds from a local facility that offers work-release programs for male offenders re-entering the community.

But some council members said they have no interest in funding additional beds for the jail as a long- or short-term solution.

"I want to hear more about systematic policy changes first," said council member Leroy Robinson, who represents District 1.

Curry contended that much of the increase in inmates stems from a surge in violent crime in Indianapolis, where 144 people were killed in 2015, the city's deadliest year on record for criminal homicides.

"Marion County is experiencing what every urban area in the country is experiencing: an uptick in violent crime," he said. "Police agencies and prosecutors are acting accordingly."

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