ANDERSON — The County Jail Overcrowding Task Force was urged to support mental health and substance abuse treatment facilities in every county.
Established by the Indiana General Assembly, the Task Force met Wednesday on the Anderson University campus and is charged with identifying common reasons to jail overcrowding.
A report is to be presented to Gov. Eric Holcomb, Indiana Supreme Court Chief Justice Loretta Rush and the legislative council by Dec. 1.
Madison Circuit Court Division 4 Judge David Happe said jail overcrowding has been a problem in the county for decades.
He said the opioid addiction epidemic is a part of the cause of the overcrowding.
“There has been an increase in Level 6 felony charges in Madison County,” Happe said. “We don’t have room for them in the jail or in the community corrections programs.”
He said many of the people, either convicted or placed in the community corrections program, don’t perform well and are returned to the criminal justice system.
“We have a local jail overcrowding task force that has been working well,” Happe said. “We are revamping the bail system locally by Jan. 1.
“Low level and nonviolent offenders could be released from the jail after paying an assessment fee,” he said.
David Powell, senior counsel for the Indiana Prosecuting Attorney’s Council, said when the Legislature changed the state’s criminal code he was concerned there was not a good understanding of resources in local communities.
The new criminal code was adopted in 2014 and requires people convicted of Level 6 felonies to remain in their local county jail or in local community correction programs.
“We have our own case management system that was provided to all counties,” Powell said of jail overcrowding and inmates either sentenced or awaiting trial.
In 2015, there were 43,868 people convicted of Level 6 felonies in Indiana, he said, and through the first six months of this year the number is at 43,687.
“The criminal code created more Level 6 felony convictions,” Powell said.
He said the No. 1 felony crime in 2015 was theft and in 2018 it was possession of methamphetamine. Powell said the top misdemeanor charges are driving with a suspended license and possession of marijuana.
“We need to do everything we can to reduce those numbers,” Powell said.
Statistics provided by Powell showed four of the top 10 felony convictions and five of the top misdemeanor convictions are related to substance abuse.
“The increases in misdemeanor and low-level felony charges are related to substance abuse,” he said. “All top 10 offenses since 2015 have been Level 6 felony charges.”
Powell said criminal charges for dealing drugs have increased by 197% since 2016.
“We have to find a way to reduce the use and demand,” he said. “Once we do, we will see a dramatic impact on the number of criminal charges filed related to substance abuse.”
Powell said in the past five years there are 18 Indiana counties that have spent $1 billion on construction or planning for new jail facilities.
“We need to support capacity in every community to treat mental health issues and substance abuse,” he said.
Mark Carnell of the Indiana Public Defenders Council said a study done by the Indiana Department of Correction found 56% of the people in county jails are awaiting trial and 45% of those are charged with Level 6 felonies.
Carnell said that even if those inmates awaiting trial or sentenced on a Level 6 felony charge were released there would still be 31 Indiana jails over capacity.
He said a solution is to implement a statewide bail schedule instead of having each county set the amount of bond for release and to release low-risk offenders without a bond.
“We need to build treatment centers that are separate from the criminal justice system,” Carnell said. “People should be diverted to treatment for substance abuse and nonviolent crimes.”