Indianapolis Star Letter to the Editor

Public's safety depends on adequate funding

December 5, 2004
My View: Cale Bradford

It's been said the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over, yet expecting different results. This perfectly describes local government's response to Marion County's financially strained criminal justice system. For too many years the response by our government leaders to inadequately funded law enforcement budgets is to do the same thing over and over; namely to avoid long-term solutions that ensure adequate funding is in place to keep pace with our city's growth.

In a strange new twist to avoiding long-term solutions, local government has made the decision to decrease the operating budgets of the Marion County sheriff, prosecutor and Superior Court system. This will further tip the scales of justice in favor of those who commit crimes.

What is the real cost of an inadequately funded criminal justice system? Consider this: Over a five-year period, we have documented a 34 percent increase in defendants who fail to return to court following a release on bond or release under emergency orders. This increase is directly linked to jail overcrowding and the mounting pressure on judges to set lower bonds.

The result is that we now have "frequent fliers" in the criminal justice system; these criminal defendants are keen to the ambiguity between what is said and what is done. They know what to expect and know from first-hand experience that there most likely will be no adverse consequences for failing to return to court. This revolving door does not bode well, particularly for petty crimes that affect the quality of life for residents and the business community.

Here's an even more alarming fact: Individuals released from jail under emergency-release measures are accused of killing five people in our community since 2002.

A well-functioning criminal justice system must not force its elected and appointed representatives to make critical public safety decisions based upon how many beds are open at the jail, the corresponding threat of federal fines, or whether there is enough money in the budget to arrest, prosecute or defend those who commit or are charged with criminal acts.

Community and government leaders endeavor to create high-profile initiatives that bring more people to Indianapolis with open wallets that benefit our economy. Our leaders strive to create awareness nationwide that we are a destination place for arts and culture; to build world-class sports facilities; to provide for quality public education; and to create jobs through incentives to private sector development. I do not dispute that all are needed for a healthy, well-functioning and growing community.

However, in their efforts to bring more people to Indianapolis, they must not forget that the lives and safety of those who work and live here now must be as big a priority as cultural niceties and impressive sports facilities. People simply will not attend such cultural and sporting events, place their children in public schools or build corporate headquarters in the community if they do not feel safe.

The Superior Court of Marion County is committed to working with executive and legislative leaders to find substantive and cooperative ways to address the criminal justice funding crisis that puts citizens at risk. We have jointly identified several initiatives to pursue in 2005 that will provide for new sources of funding for the criminal justice community. Many of our ideas will require legislative approval.

Please support our efforts and make it known to your elected representatives that public safety is a priority for your family.

Bradford is presiding judge of the Superior Court of Marion County.