Indianapolis Star

Plan is Crafted to End Inmates' Early Release

June 21, 2005
By Vic Ryckaert and Tom Spalding
Indianapolis Star

Marion County officials unveiled a plan Monday to end early release for jail inmates that includes a new court, higher lawyer salaries and more staff for DNA testing.

The $12 million proposal, designed to speed the pace at which people move through the county court system, follows several cases in which inmates were released early to meet court-ordered limits on jail crowding only to be charged later with committing more serious crimes, including murder.

"We've all moved from dialogue to doing something about it and to moving in the right direction," said Marion Superior Court Judge Cale Bradford, the presiding judge over the county's 32 superior courts.

Supporters of the initiative, which now goes to the City-County Council, say it would shorten the amount of time a defendant remains in jail while awaiting trial, moving more quickly toward determining his or her guilt or innocence.

The plan includes $2.6 million to increase salaries and staffing for sheriff's deputies who work in the jail and the courts; $2.3 million to increase salaries for public defenders; $1.9 million to create a new major felony court; and $1.4 million to build a courtroom in the City-County Building.

The Criminal Justice Planning Council, a bipartisan committee of elected officials formed to address jail crowding and other criminal justice issues, voted unanimously to approve the proposal.

Money generated by an increase in the county-option income tax would pay for the changes. Earlier this year, the City-County Council approved raising the tax for the first time in 14 years.

Under that legislation, the income tax rate will increase from 0.7 percent to 1 percent over three years. The increase will raise more than $12 million in its first year.

The county jail is under a federal court order to address its crowding problems. Since 2001, more than 10,000 inmates have been freed from jail early because of crowding.

Six of those released have later been charged with murder, including 22-year-old Terrance Anderson, who was accused of terrorizing an Eastside neighborhood earlier this month. He was charged last week with murder in the slayings of 21-year-old Thomas Edmondson and 16-year-old Tyric Rudolph.

Mary Moriarty Adams, chairwoman of the Council's Public Safety and Criminal Justice Committee, said she believes the plan will win approval because it was drafted by people in the criminal justice system.

"They provided the options," she said. "They know best what their needs are."

Mayor Bart Peterson called the decision to send the plan to the City-County Council a "historic vote in support of finally beginning the process of fixing the criminal justice system here in Marion County. It's been broken a long, long time."

Marion County Sheriff Frank Anderson said the plan's details will be reported to U.S. District Judge Sarah Evans Barker, who found the county in contempt of court in July 2003 for the inhumane and dangerous jail conditions. She set a 1,135-inmate population cap on the jail as part of a 3-decades-old lawsuit over the jail.

"You really can't build yourself out of or bill your way out of (jail crowding)," Anderson said when asked about building more jail cells. "People will often hear me talk about the funnel. If you keep putting something into the top of it and you don't have a big enough neck at the bottom, it's going to overflow."

The plan drew criticism from Marion County Prosecutor Carl Brizzi because it includes no money for adding jail beds. Brizzi, however, voted in favor of the plan at the end of the 90-minute Planning Council meeting.

"People are still failing to appear in court but, all that said, without the funds necessary to actually add beds in addition to this, it is a step in the right direction," Brizzi said.

Ken Falk, an attorney for the Indiana Civil Liberties Union, applauded the plan.

"I think if in fact the system can be adjusted so people move through it faster -- either through acquittal or the guilty findings -- it would benefit the system, so that's something that should be applauded," Falk said.

Council members decided building more cells would merely exacerbate the problem. Each jail inmate costs the county $43 a day.

Inmates can spend weeks or months in jail waiting for DNA test results and transcripts, causing a clog in the criminal justice system, Superior Court Judge Mark Stoner said.

"You're dealing with a system that is underfunded and underresourced in so many areas," Stoner said. "The delays in getting that information makes it impossible for lawyers to assess how strong a case is."

What's in the proposed measure

Here's a look at some of the top expenditures in the county's plan to address jail and public safety conditions:
• DNA testing: Outsources backlog in DNA testing to private labs. Cost: $156,206 (one time).

• Crime lab: Boosts staffing in Forensic Services Agency to expedite DNA tests and other evidence. Cost: $432,132.

• Courts budget: Allows courts to continue operations at current levels through the end of the year. Cost: $865,394 (one time).

• Courtroom space: Develops space for an additional courtroom. Cost: $1.4 million (one time).

• New court: Creates a new court for "timely disposition" of major felony cases. Cost: $1.9 million annually.

• Medical services: Improves services at the jail. Cost: $1.6 million annually.

• Salary increase (public defenders): Increases salaries and staffing for public defenders. Cost: $2.3 million annually.

• Salary increase (jailers/court deputies): Increases salaries and staffing for correctional personnel. Cost: $2.6 million.

Source: Criminal Justice Planning Council