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Friday, May 13, 2016 9:38 am

No savings seen yet in state prisoner shift

Niki Kelly | The Journal Gazette

INDIANAPOLIS – The Indiana Department of Correction is enjoying a steady drop in the number of adult offenders at the same time local jails are seeing an increase.

The shift is part of a plan by lawmakers to revise the sentencing system and divert low-level offenders out of prison and into local jails or programs.

But the state apparently isn’t saving any money – cash that was supposed to be passed on to help local units of government with increased costs.

"Not enough time has passed to be able to determine what cost-savings have been achieved at this time," DOC Chief Communications Officer Doug Garrison said. "We will carefully monitor this as the months go on and try to gauge what, if any, savings can be realized after this law has had time to go into effect."

Monthly snapshot reports on the DOC population show since Jan. 1 the adult population has dropped by 617, or 2.3 percent. Since July 1, 2015, the DOC population has dropped by more than 1,100 or 4 percent.

Overall, the reduction is more than 5,000 inmates – or 17 percent – since the initial law went into effect in July 2014.

Part of the drop is due to reconfiguring sentences so that non-violent offenders serve less time and violent offenders serve more. And part is due to the Department of Correction no longer accepting Level 6 felonies – the lowest category – as of Jan. 1.

Rep. Greg Steuerwald, R-Avon, said by the end of the year the drop should be 5,700 inmates.

"Eventually, if this population holds we would have to look at closing a DOC facility," he said, although DOC is yet to report any savings. And the department last year was asking the legislature for tens of millions to build another prison.

Meanwhile, some local jails – especially in urban areas – are seeing an uptick in holding the Level 6 offenders they are now statutorily required to house rather than DOC. That number has jumped from 342 at the beginning of the year to more than 1,000.

The May 1 report showed 48 of those offenders in Allen County; 86 in Marion County and more than 100 in Hendricks County.

The Allen County Jail already has exceeded its capacity of 741 inmates this year. Marion County’s three facilities can hold 2,507 inmates but they had 2,529 this week. To avoid overcrowding, the county is paying other counties to house some inmates.

Counties get $35 a day from the state for these Level 6 offenders but that does little to help build additions.

"I’m concerned. The goal was never to dump everyone in the local jails," Steuerwald said. "The goal was beef up services and community corrections."

He points to Recovery Works – the first statewide program that pays for addiction and mental health treatment for convicted felons sent to community corrections instead of jail or prison – as making a major difference in the future. It started at the end of last year.

Steuerwald said one way to make that program even more effective is to expand it to those committing misdemeanors as well so many in the county jails could participate.

This might help some offenders avoid becoming felons in the future.

"That thing will positively change lives," he said. But he also said that lawmakers and citizens need to wait two to five years to see the full effect of the entire overhaul.

nkelly@jg.net