Indianapolis Star Editorial

Filling in the Cracks of Justice System

June 21, 2005
Our position is: The planning council report is one of many conversations over how to revamp public safety.

Marion County Superior Court Judge Mark Stoner says it makes no sense to spend all $12 million in new funding to expand the county jail without speeding up the county's overburdened criminal justice system. That's why his committee of the Criminal Justice Planning Council recommended Monday it be spent on, among things, boosting staffs of the crime labs and adding two courts. The money comes from an increase in the county option income tax from 0.75 percent to 1 percent.

But Prosecutor Carl Brizzi complains the plan is "just a Band-aid" that won't prevent cases such as that of Terrance "Mob" Anderson, who after numerous early releases allegedly committed a double murder. Explains Brizzi: "Speeding up the case of a person (who's skipped court dates) doesn't make a difference if he isn't showing up."

Both Stone and Brizzi are right. Most of the county's chronic jail overcrowding and early-release dilemmas result from needless delays. Lengthy backlogs at the crime lab mean that DNA analyses can take months to complete. Delivering transcripts of police interviews to all parties in a case can take up to eight weeks.

Stoner and County Clerk Doris Anne Sadler say that forming a 16-person transcription division to reduce this to two weeks would help speed up cases, reduce early releases and forestall the $12 million cost of building a new jail. Good idea. Outsourcing DNA testing to outside firms is also a sensible move, as is the proposed addition of two community-service crews as an alternative for jailing probation violators.

Yet raising the salaries of county clerks and public defenders, as Brizzi points out, seems questionable when police layoffs remain possible. The rash of court-date skipping means more cases such as Anderson's can occur. The need for new beds remains.

Stoner and Brizzi agree that in the long run both approaches are needed to solve Marion County's criminal justice woes. Yet justice on the cheap that has become a trademark of Marion County government is why this is a battle -- and needless at that.