ANDERSON, Ind. — A recent motion by the State of Indiana has a local judge concerned about what it could mean for communities like Madison County.
The motion, which would require the county to pay for court expenses related to cases involving inmates incarcerated in Madison County Department of Correction centers, has Judge Dennis Carroll so concerned that he’s issued an order for the motion to be refuted.
“Let’s say, for example, there’s an inmate from Fort Wayne and another from Evansville. Both of them committed their crime outside Madison County, but if they commit a crime while in Pendleton [Correctional Facility], their court costs, including an appeal, would have to be covered by the folks in Madison County,” Carroll said.
According to Carroll, that’s unfair.
This issue was first brought to his attention after a 2012 trial that found inmate Jeffrey Cook, originally of Randolph County, guilty of murdering a fellow inmate at the Pendleton Correctional Facility. Court 6, which Carroll oversees, sent the bill for Cook’s public defender to the state auditor, as it has for years. The motion returned by the auditor basically says the state shouldn’t have to pay the expense.
Carroll responded by pointing to an Indiana code that indicates the state is responsible for “all costs of trial.”
“I think that should be interpreted broadly. The attorney general is taking it narrowly. But it’s been done like this for years,” the judge said.
The issue is now back in the hands of the auditor’s office, which has 30 days to pay the bill or send it to court for review. Carroll, who said he has support from Judge David Happe and other justices, issued the order on June 17, so he should have his answer this week. If the courts accept the auditor’s position, Madison County will be stuck with the bill in Cook’s case and other similar cases involving non-native inmates. Not only that, but it could lead to an interpretation that sticks the county with pretrial hearing costs and appeal expenses. How much is that?
Madison County Prosecutor Rodney Cummings said he estimates it’s at least tens of thousands of dollars a year, depending on how many similar cases come out of Madison County DOC facilities. It might seem like a rare occasion, but the incidents add up.
“It’s a lot of money, and it’s not fair,” Cummings said. “It’s a lot more than you think, and that cost would be zero if the prisons weren’t here.”
Madison County has four detention centers: the jail in Anderson, the Pendleton Correctional Facility, medium-security Pendleton Correctional Industrial Facility and a maximum-security juvenile center in Pendleton. The latter three have prisoners from all around the state, and crime in the maximum-security prison is rampant. In 2013, five cases in PCF have been referred to state police, and charges are still pending. That number seems to be down from 2012, when 13 cases were referred. The number was 29 in 2011.
“There are usually about three or four murders a year, usually about the same number as the rest of the county. There are riots, gang activity, contraband. Lots of crime,” Cummings said. “So that adds up.”
The state does cover some expenses in such cases. Judges are paid by the state, as are prosecuting attorneys. So what’s the reason for changing policy on public defenders and court costs now? Carroll believes it’s money.
“It’s a function of the budget,” Carroll said. “Everyone is trying to save money now. The money to cover these costs comes out of the DOC budget, and it’s getting more and more costly to house and remediate inmates. So they’re trying to cut costs any way they can.”
Indiana state Sen. Tim Lanane, Senate minority leader, said he agrees that the issue seems unfair if it continues to be interpreted that way. Lanane said he has chaired budget committees, so he’s aware of the financial straits all agencies seem to be in.
“Should there be further consideration of this problem? It’s something we can look into, but honestly, I haven’t seen a concerted effort for a change,” Lanane said. “You’ve got to handle it on a county-by-county basis.”
While Lanane agreed Madison County residents would feel a brunt of those court costs, he also said the county benefits from employment opportunities and property taxes by having those DOC facilities in the county.
So now, Carroll waits for a response to his order. The decision hanging in the balance could be an expensive one for county residents.
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