Indianapolis Star Editorial

Jail Plan Moves in Right Direction

December 7, 2005
Our position: The proposal to transfer women is a small and uncertain step toward the ultimate jail solution.

Moving nonviolent female inmates -- or any nonviolent inmates -- out of the Marion County Jail and into a private rehabilitation facility makes perfect sense on paper. Whether Sheriff Frank Anderson's plan for the mass transfer will make a dent in the jail's chronic overcrowding problem remains to be tested.

The cost of serving the women in Liberty Hall has not been determined, for starters. Nor is it clear whether substantial new space can be created at that Downtown agency to accommodate some 250 women without displacing large numbers of the male inmates who now receive a constellation of services there to smooth their return to society.

Even if the move is successful, it amounts to one more shuffle and one more Band-Aid for a jail that has had to grant premature release to more than 10,000 prisoners since 2001 in order to comply with a federal court order capping its population. Some of those who've gotten out early have committed crimes; six were later charged with murder.

Officials across the gamut of local government must continue moving toward a comprehensive, and inevitably costly, solution to an antiquated, overflowing, dangerous criminal justice plant, including courtrooms, jail space and various support facilities.

Meanwhile, Anderson is doing what he can, and getting some bipartisan support (though the Democrat's critics in the GOP probably have a point about his duet with county prosecutor candidate Melina Kennedy in announcing the latest jail initiative).

The approximately 250 inmates who would be eligible for Liberty Hall represent more than 90 percent of the jail's female population and have more than 400 children among them, Anderson said. His hope is that the array of rehabilitation services they would receive would make them better mothers, less likely to return to jail or to see the next generation run afoul of the law.

His offer of hope deserves a try, particularly since it carries the potential bonus of freeing up desperately needed jail beds. But male and female offenders alike should be afforded transitional help, for the community's sake as well as their own. Like a safe, adequate place to keep prisoners and conduct the county's business, that requires not just inventiveness, but investment.