Indianapolis Star Editorial

We Can't Escape Public Safety Woes

March 25, 2006
Our position: Problems with home detention exemplify need to repair Marion County's criminal justice system.

The Star's report on Friday that nearly half the suspects Marion County placed on home detention last year cut off their ankle monitoring bracelets or broke other rules exemplifies key problems in the county's criminal justice system. The public has no reasonable guarantee suspected criminals will be kept in jail, monitored when released, or even show up for their trials.

The complex of four buildings that makes up the Marion County Jail is holding 2,541 inmates this week. They are supposed to stay there until they are arraigned, convicted or acquitted. But with a federal court order limiting the jail's capacity to 2,600 inmates, some eventually will be released early to relieve overcrowding. About 564 have been freed early so far this year.

For less-risky defendants, home detention is supposed to provide a way to track them while awaiting trial. But all too frequently it doesn't happen, as evidenced by a rising number of failure-to-appear warrants and the 314 suspects on home detention who freed themselves from monitoring bracelets from June 2004 to July 2005.

The simple solution is to file fresh charges against suspects who escape from home detention and send them to jail. But Marion County's Chief Deputy Prosecutor David Wyser says that path only leads to overcrowding, which, in turn, triggers more early releases.

These problems point to the county's critical lack of jail space. They also can be traced to the backlog in DNA testing and the need for more judges, prosecutors and public defenders. And all of the woes are linked by the fact that for many years the county has been unwilling to properly invest in public safety.

Marion County, in short, is getting exactly the kind of criminal justice system it has paid for -- a dysfunctional mess that threatens residents' safety.