Indianapolis Star Editorial

Fatal Flaws Plague Justice System

December 14, 2004
Our position is: The Lamar Blount case illustrates the deadly consequences of skimping on criminal justice.

To understand how Marion County's longtime penny-pinching of its criminal justice system led to the murder of John Williams and four others by released county jail inmates, consider the dilemma faced by Marion County Superior Court Judge William Young.

As supervising judge over the county's Arrestee Processing Center, Young and his crew of judges and commissioners have to make sure the county jail doesn't violate U.S. District Judge Sarah Evans Barker's year-old court order barring the county from holding more than 1,135 prisoners. Overcrowding so far this year has resulted in the release of nearly 2,000 prisoners, an average of almost six per day, The Star's Vic Ryckaert reported on Sunday. Most of them were awaiting trial. That often means choosing "the best candidates for release among the worst people" to be sent back to the streets.

Decisions on whom to release are made by sorting through arrest and bond data, but parole-violation records and rap sheets in courts outside of Marion County aren't available. Nor can the court system check out the FBI's national database or access juvenile records. One priority should be to immediately upgrade the outdated computer system used by the courts.

When Lamar Blount was arrested on Oct. 6 for violating probation, the jail's population was near the cap, which led a commissioner to order his release. After he failed to appear in court on Oct. 22, an arrest warrant was issued, but before Blount was picked up, he and another man allegedly killed Williams after an argument.

From Judge Barker's court order last year to this summer's wrangling over funding the public defender's office, the price Marion County is paying for decades of skimping on the criminal justice system is too high. With another $1.9 million slash in the upcoming year's criminal justice budget, it promises to get worse. Even deadly.