INDIANAPOLIS – Indiana sheriffs will make an effort in the next few months to pinpoint the causes of overcrowding in jails, one of the first attempts at documenting the recurring problem throughout the state.
|The Floyd County jail typically holds around around 280 inmates, which is about 50 more than the facility's official capacity. News-Tribune file photo by Josh Hicks|
|In Madison County|
|Sheriff Scott Mellinger has not received a copy of the survey, but he has definite views about what the causes of jail overcrowding are.|
Overcrowding is mostly related to drug abuse.
“It’s people who are selling drugs, caught with drugs, under the influence of drugs and commit another crime, or people who need money for drugs,” Mellinger said Wednesday.
In all, he estimates that 80 to 90 percent of detainees have a drug problem, and of those men and women, the vast majority are being held on a pretrial basis.
And that raises another problem, Mellinger said. Cases are not moving swiftly enough through the court system.
Poverty is also an aggravating factor.
“Out of the 287 people in our jail today, there are at least 50 whose bond is very low, $500,” Mellinger said.
As a result, many of those people don’t bond out because they can’t raise the money, even though they might not have a prior record and are nonviolent.
"We want to make sure we're pulling in the right data to make recommendations and find solutions through data points for those sheriffs who are experiencing overcrowding issues," said Stephen Luce, executive director of the Indiana Sheriffs' Association.
The association is hoping to have data ready within 45 days to present to a General Assembly interim study committee looking into corrections and criminal code.
"We want to be able to find those trends contributing to this to make sure we get the right solutions," Luce said.
All sheriffs will be asked to survey their jails.
"We do want to have participation from at least a majority of the sheriffs," said Hamilton County Sheriff Mark Bowen, president of the association.
"Some are not affected, some have newer jails and plenty of room already, so we're trying to look and see as an aggregate where we stand with what's happening with inmate populations in Indiana," he said.
Earlier this week, the Hamilton County Jail was housing 354 inmates. It has a 296-bed capacity, Bowen said. A 120-bed addition is being planned for the facility in Noblesville.
Generally, overcrowding is determined by the physical limits of a jail building compared with the ratio of officers to inmates. State jail inspectors often cite jail overcrowding as the number one problem in jail reports.
In the last year, there have been at least four federal lawsuits filed by inmates complaining of crowded conditions in Indiana jails.
The lawsuits include one by five inmates over Henry County Jail conditions.
In the November 2016 lawsuit, a female inmate claims she shared a three-person cell with five other inmates, forcing her to sleep on a plastic mat on the floor. She also claimed that mold was growing on the floor and ceiling.