New study finds jail population increasing in Indiana

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FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) — Indiana is among the top five states with the most pronounced jail growth.

On Tuesday, the Vera Institute of Justice released its digital publication What Jails Cost Statewide in Indiana. The Institute is a nationally recognized organization with a mission to build and improve justice systems. It works in partnership with local, state and national government officials to create change from within. 

The study gives a county by county look at the potential cost savings from reducing jail incarcerations as well as how much a county spends in a year.

“Everyone who goes to state or federal prison passes through a local jail,” said Jasmine Heiss, Director of In Our Backyards Initiative. “We see that even a brief stay in jail makes them more likely to be entangled with the justice system in the future. We wanted to both truly understand a state like Indiana, which is a bill of rights public rights states, and see how much these publicly-funded institutes are costing and also wanted to see what the opportunity for cost savings and reinvestment were.”

VERA looked at 74 of Indiana’s 92 counties’ local jails*. In total in 2019 counties across Indiana spent at least $242,595,536. The average cost per Hoosier in jail is $54.

“We think this is very likely an underestimate mainly because it is missing data and other counties didn’t have data available,” said Beatrice Halbach-Singh, research associate. “Some of those counties include Marion and Elkhart.”

The study found that a majority of people incarcerated in Indiana’s jails are there pretrial and have not been convicted and, most often, are too poor to pay bail. It also found the increase in jail population is also due to the increased practice of diverting people charged with Level 6 felonies from prisons to jail.

According to the Indiana Criminal Justice Institute, 64 of the state’s 92 jails exceeded 80% capacity in 2019, and 37 facilities were over capacity limits.

“Jails are used to increase public safety but given the way they are used, that’s not so clear,” Halbach-Singh said. “I think the primary aim for sharing this data is to enable people to look out how their communities are investing their resources and their taxpayer dollars. This could also be an opportunity for communities to redirect their dollars toward community services like community treatment services.”

WATCH: Halbach-Singh talks and shows how to access the data on the website below.

The study goes on to show that jail populations in smaller cities and rural counties are on the rise while incarceration is decreasing in bigger and suburban cities.

“Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, we estimate that 40% of jails were planning or in the process of planning bigger jails,” Heiss said. “I think what’s important to underscore the dramatic but temporary decline of jail bookings during the pandemic shows that there are other ways things could be done. We saw the single biggest decline for bookings were for drug, court, and driving-related offenses.”

Looking at the data Allen County’s jail comes in at number two behind Lake County for the largest total jail expenditures. The total expenditures for the county according to the study totaled $15,663,945 which is 7% of the county’s budget.

Other counties in Northeast Indiana ranked as followed:

  • Kosciusko County: 26
  • Huntington County: 31
  • Adams County: 33
  • Blackford County: 45
  • Whitley County: 50
  • Steuben County: 58
  • Wells County: 59
  • Jay County: 61
  • Wabash County: 63

To see and interact with the VERA study click here.

*Jail data from the following counties is not included in the study because budget data was not publicly available or reliably comprehensive: Bartholomew, Boone, DeKalb, Elkhart, Floyd, Fountain, Hamilton, Jennings, LaGrange, Marion, Noble, Ohio, Owen, Parke, Pulaski. 

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