Thursday, June 30, 2011

Jail Size Is NOT The Problem.

States across the country are trying to cut budget deficits by reducing their prison populations, rewriting their criminal laws and, reconsidering who should be incarcerated. Meanwhile, our local government is planning a $12 million expansion of the Dearborn County Jail, which will carry with it an annual operating cost of $1.34 million when filled.[1] A jail expansion is not needed. There are alternative solutions to the “overcrowding” problem. These alternatives should be explored and more questions should be asked before the County embarks on a costly jail expansion.

One solution is changing how bonds are set. Persons charged with a crime are normally given a “bond”, an amount they can pay to be released from jail while their case is pending. Under Indiana law, the purposes of bond are to make certain the person charged shows up at future court dates and to protect the community from violent offenders. Judges have the power to set bonds. In most counties, bonds are set in cash or surety. A cash bond requires the total amount be paid in cash before the accused can get out of jail. A surety bond requires 10% of the amount be paid, generally to a bail bondsman. The bail bondsman guarantees the person’s appearance in court.

The vast majority of the time, our judges set bond in two parts, requiring both a cash bond AND a surety bond. One purpose of this practice is to collect court costs, fines, and probation fees up front. This has resulted in higher bonds for minor charges than in many counties. Many people arrested are unable to post bond and sit in jail pending the resolution of their case. A study
performed by RQAW, the company chosen to advise the county whether a new jail is needed, verified that 45 to 50% of people in our jail are being held pre-trial on misdemeanor charges.[2] Misdemeanors have a possible penalty of 1 year or less. Crimes such as first time OWI, first time possession of marijuana, disorderly conduct, underage drinking and battery without serious injury are misdemeanors. Many, if not most of these people do not pose a danger to the community nor pose a high risk of failing to appear on the scheduled court dates and therefore should not be held in jail while their case is pending.

The Dearborn County jail holds 216 people. According to the RQAW study, last year our average jail population was 258 inmates.[3] At least 116, or 45%, of those people were held on minor charges because they could not post bond. If even half of those people were released pre-trial on lower bonds, written promises to appear, or house arrest, the jail “overcrowding” problem would not exist.

In addition to setting more reasonable bonds, there are other simple, less expensive alternatives to the overcrowding problem. The American Bar Association in a report released earlier this year offered two proposals. First, more closely identify those persons pre-trial who are truly a risk to fail to appear in court or who are actually a danger to the community. Second, increase the use of alternative pre-trial detention tools, such as house arrest, to monitor persons while they await trial.

In addition to exploring these alternatives, the following questions should be answered before the debate is closed and Dearborn County forces the taxpayers to spend an additional $12 million and commits the taxpayers to cover the additional $1.34 million operating expenses each year after the jail is filled:

  • The RQAW study estimates when the new jail reaches 100% occupancy, it will require $1.34 million per year for administration and operating expenses. Where will that money come from?

  • How does the size of the Dearborn County jail compare to other counties in Indiana of similar population?

    • Dearborn County, population 50,502[4] , proposed jail size 440[5] beds

    • Boone County , population 56,287, jail size 221 beds[6]

    • Floyd County, population 74,426, jail size 234 beds[7]

    • Henry County, population 47,827, 130 beds[8]

    • Noble County, population 48,028, 259 beds[9]

  • Why does Dearborn County require more jail space than comparable counties?

  • Why is the average length of stay in Dearborn County jail 70% to 100% longer[10] than the average stay for other jails studied by RQAW?

  • Does Dearborn County use its community corrections (house arrest, work release, road crew) programs the same way other counties in Indiana do?

  • Could Dearborn County more effectively use its community corrections programs to eliminate the jail overcrowding problem?

  • What types of offenders can be released pre-trial without danger to the community?

  • How much of the new proposed jail is allocated for administration and office space for the sheriff's department? Can the sheriff’s department utilize existing office space or off-site county space?

A $12 million jail expansion will cost Dearborn County $237.61 per resident. The does not include operating costs of $1.34 million per year ($26.53 per year per resident). We have a responsibility to investigate all available alternatives and demand the County obtain all the answers before we commit to building a jail we really don’t need.

N. Alan Miller, III

Douglas A. Garner

[1] RQAW Report Executive Summary, page 9
[2] RQAW Report Appendix C, page 18
[3] RQAW Report Executive Summary, page 2
[4] County population estimates are from July 1, 2009. See:
[5] RQAW Report Executive Summary, page 5
[10] RQAW Report Appendix C, page 15


A. Dearborn Citizen said...

Folks, I don't want to be pedantic about the Anonymous pseudonym because this is an important topic, but, since I just got through hammering another thread, I feel obliged to be consistent. Let me recap the rule:

"There will be only two rules, that if broken will result in the removal of comments:
1) The former rule regarding obscene language holds - keep a civil tongue, even in the thick of battle, and,
2) Posts that contain only the signature "Anonymous", no matter how brilliant or pithy, will be removed. Pick a signature, any signature, by selecting Name/URL and filling out the Name box. It would be especially nice if you would use the same one each time, but that will be up to you. Addressing an author is the only way to coherently respond to his or her ideas, and we can't all be Mr. Anonymous."

Lets get with the program. If you made one of the above comments and really want it to stick, I suggest you pick an ID and repost. I will leave the above for 12 hours to support cut and paste, but after that Anonymous posts are gone.

Reason said...

The attorneys deserve a big round of applause for publicly saying what we have been saying for a long time. Why keep non-violent prisoners in jail because of too high bonds and other reasons. If the officials feel they need to keep track of them, there are monitors and other means of doing so. Also , cases need to be moved along. Many times dates are set and reset causing backloads etc., all adding to the cost of operating.

taxpayer said...

How many people in our jail are casino related?

FANfan...not. said...

Sounds like you two should be running things, want to put your name on the ballot? We need to clean house next election.

Holy Cow said...

those statistics of other counties are alarming.

Anonymous said...

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