Indianapolis Star Article

New Lockup Has Kinks To Work Out

September 8, 2003
By Vic Ryckaert

September 8, 2003

One inmate has escaped, and others have waited 30 hours to be processed, but officials say operations at the $12 million Arrestee Processing Center will improve as the people who run it learn the routine.

Marion County's new lockup has handled about 1,600 people since it opened late last month. Officials say some snafus were inevitable.

"I'm proud of the people over there," said Major John Ball of the Indianapolis Police Department. "It's not where we want to be, but it's a whole lot better than it's been historically."

The new facility, on the first floor of a converted warehouse at 752 E. Market St., replaces the old Marion County Lockup in the City-County Building.

Booking typically took about eight hours in the old lockup -- even for people accused of minor crimes. Those arrested on weekends or holidays routinely spent three days in holding cells.

The goal of the new processing center is to complete the procedures -- from taking fingerprints to making a first appearance before a judge -- in about five hours.

One way that is accomplished is by having a courtroom in the building.

By reducing the time people spend behind bars, the center is seen as one key to easing the county's jail crowding crisis.

But there is concern that some inmates actually could be processed too quickly.

Though the center operates 24 hours a day, the Indiana State Police fingerprint checkers do not work on weekends or holidays.

That means someone arrested for a minor crime on a Saturday may be freed before his or her fingerprints are checked against the State Police database. A person wanted in another county, for example, could be released before county officials find that out. State Police and others, however, downplay the situation.

Fingerprints still get checked on weekends, officials say. Most of the fingerprint work is done by computer, but occasionally the machine gets stumped and requires the assistance of a human eye.

The machines have yet to be stumped on a weekend, officials said. And if Marion County officers believe it is warranted, State Police technicians can be called in on a weekend, said 1st Sgt. Dave Bursten, a State Police spokesman.

The worst that could happen is a two-day delay in getting someone's identification, which isn't too bad, said retired FBI fingerprint expert Ivan R. Futrell.

"Back in my day, when I started in the 1960s, there was a three-day turnaround," he said.

And before computers, it could take several months to check fingerprints at the FBI, said Futrell, a Virginia man who teaches fingerprint identification techniques to law enforcement agencies across the country.

Ball agreed the current system has room for improvement.

"It would be my preference that we could do every check and balance before somebody leaves," he said. "We make the best of the system we have, and we'll continue to work to make it better."

The facility looks more like a hospital waiting room than a jail -- a difference one inmate used to his advantage.

On Aug. 31, a judge at the processing center told James Hazelip he was heading to jail. Instead, Hazelip, who had been charged with theft, blended into a line of people getting released and was able to simply walk out. He was arrested two days later when he appeared for his scheduled court hearing.

Hazelip, 36, was in Marion Superior Court on Friday at an initial hearing on an escape charge. He now is being held in the Marion County Jail.

Capt. Robert Holt, the center's commander, said the escape was the result of a "procedural error." To prevent future flights, inmates on their way to jail are no longer allowed to mingle with those who will be getting out.

"Anyone who is going to be transferred to a cell is locked down now," Holt said.

Computer software problems make it impossible to determine the average stay for those arrested, Holt said, but he conceded "a few" have stayed for as long as a day and a half.

"It stems mainly from getting a large number of inmates here at one time and problems with the fingerprint system having to be rebooted," Holt said.

He said technicians are working out the bugs and the officers are getting better at processing people who are arrested.

"Our people are new," Holt said. "Each day it improves, and our backlog gets down."