Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Jail Overcrowding And The 2005 COIT Increase

Much hay is trying to be made of an increase in the County Option Income Tax back in 2005.  So I thought I'd revisit just what was going on at that time and who voted what way on the increase.

Jail is the place where folks who have been arrested await trial.  Prison is the place where folks who have been found guilty go to serve their time.  Not all those folks who are in jail are innocent of the crime for which they are charged.  Not all those folks who are in jail are guilty of the crime for which they are charged.

For many years, Indianapolis/Marion County had a jail overcrowding problem.  It really was a human rights issue.  Finally, the Courts handed down an order that limited the number of arrestees who could be kept in the jail.  What followed was the release of arrestees to keep the count below the court order.  The situation is best summarized by Councillor Steve Talley at one of the hearings to raise the County Option Income Tax (I'll tie that tax increase in below - this is just the best summary I could find of the jail overcrowding problem)
Councillor Talley said our criminal justice officials are over stressed and under funded.  Our jails have been over crowded for the past 30 years, and worst of all, murderers and other dangerous criminals are being put back on the street.... Councillor Talley said since the early release of criminals in 2001, more than 9,000 offenders have been put back onto the street and five have been linked to homicides following their releases. He said that in 2004 alone, more than 1,500 people were released from jail early. Of those, 238 have committed additional crimes while awaiting trial. Councillor Talley indicated that 31% of criminals released early fail to appear for scheduled court dates.
I actually believe that the Council's finest hour came when they formed the Marion County Criminal Justice Planning Council to examine all the reasons why the criminal justice system was so slow that arrestees backed up in the jail - waiting for trial.  This group examined all of the ingredients.  Their approach was non-partisan and when they went to the public to share their findings, they did so by having Democrat Judge Mark Stoner and Republican County Clerk Doris Ann Sadler as the spokesmen.  The Planning Council was established in 2003.  The members of that group were representatives of the City-County Council Sheriff's Department, IPD, the Prosecutor's office, the Public Defender, Community Corrections, the Crime Lab, the County Clerk, the Circuit Court, and the Superior Courts, among others.

Enter Prop 44, 2005, to increase the County Option Income Tax from 0.7% to 1.0% over three years.  The tax had been held down in Marion County while all surrounding counties had gradual increases over the years and were already at 1.0%.  In fact, almost all counties in Indiana had reached that level by this time.

Prop 44 was sponsored by Democrat Councillors Nytes, Talley, Sanders, Gray, Moriarty Adams, Brown, Bowes, D. Mahern, and Boyd, and Republican Keller.  It passed out of committee with a do-pass recommendation by a vote of 4-3 that split along party lines.  Voting yes were Democrats Sanders, Brown, Moriarty Adams, and Nytes.  Voting no were Republicans B. Langsford, McWhirter, and Plowman.

Come the night of the full Council meeting, the comments of Republican Councillor Borst are the most illustrative of the evening's discussion.  From the minutes of that meeting:
Councillor Borst said that he started the day believing he would vote one way on this proposal and ended the day thinking another. He said that he sat down and calculated over $115.5 million worth of annual needs for the City and County that cannot be met with the current budget and revenues. He said that he does not think this is the right answer to solving the problem and believes it is just another band-aid which does not come close to fixing the budget woes.  However, he recently saw the judiciary and criminal justice system take steps in consolidating administrations to find cost savings and free up funds, and he applauds them for taking these steps and thereby indicating their serious commitment to funding initiatives. He said that he is tired of seeing prisoners released from jail early and wants to see the crime lab get the funds they so desperately need. Councillor Borst said that he was encouraged to see what happened today, with Republicans and Democrats getting together and working to solve problems and communicating openly. He said that the result of these discussions was an agreement to insure that revenues generated by this increase will be used to address funding needs of the criminal justice system and public safety operations, such as jail overcrowding, criminal court expenditures, forensic services, and debt owed to the Indiana Department of Corrections. He said that, if available, new revenues generated by the proposal could be applied to inventory property tax relief for citizens, and if another revenue source is identified, the revenue could be applied to real property tax relief or the COIT could be rolled back. He added that several recommendations are being identified to present to the Marion County Criminal Justice Planning Council for streamlining and creating efficiencies within public safety and the criminal justice system. He said that he is against raising taxes, but will now support this proposal, knowing that the money will go where it is needed most.
Prop 44 passed by a vote of 21 to 7 with one absence (Speedy).  Voting yes were Democrats Abduallah, Bowes, Boyd, Brown, Conley, Franklin, Gibson, Gray, D. Mahern, Mansfield, Moriarty Adams, Nytes, Oliver, Sanders, and Talley, and Republicans Borst, Bradford, Keller, B. Langsford, McWhirter, and Randolph.  Voting no were Republicans Cain, Cockrum, Day, Pfisterer, Plowman, Salisbury, and Schneider.

The next couple of years saw the rollout of the plan and its implementation, funded by the increased COIT funds.

An Indianapolis Business Journal editorial on August 2, 2006
There has been some progress. The Marion County Criminal Justice Planning Council's vote Aug. 1 to recommend renting 200 jail beds for six months was a smart decision that the City-County Council would be wise to ratify at its meeting Aug. 7. But it's purely a short-term fix.

There is broad agreement that the long-term solution is making the wheels of justice turn faster. Cases need to proceed more quickly so that inmates spend less time in the county lockup.

To grease those wheels, we need more judges, attorneys and clerks. And we need to pay them better, so that they stick around a few years.
And from IBJ Reporter, Scott Olson, on January 1, 2007:
 At the administrative level, Peterson called for an extra $54 million in public safety and criminal justice spending in 2007, $19 million of which funded fire protection. Most of the money came from the County Option Income Tax and borrowing from the city's Sewer Fund.

From that, $2.2 million already has been spent to create a night court to process cases faster and relieve strain on the jail. Overcrowding is a major concern, because a court-ordered cap forces Sheriff Frank Anderson to release potentially dangerous inmates early if the jail population exceeds capacity. A concept he has floated involves outsourcing jail management to a private firm that could manage inmates more efficiently, supporters say.

Moreover, Prosecutor Carl Brizzi has added six deputy prosecutors to the homicide unit, bringing the total to 12. COIT money funded the new positions, as well as additional jail beds.
The Planning Council still has a remnant in the Thursday Afternoon Group.  Representatives of the Council and Public Safety and Criminal Justice agencies all meet to discuss and coordinate ways to be more efficient and effective.  I'll repeat what I said above and many times in public meetings.  I believe that the work of the Marion County Criminal Justice Planning Council was the finest example of good government; with all parties working to determine the causes of a problem and the ways to remedy them.  The positive outcomes of this group's work continue with our City today.


Anonymous said...


Thank you for what you do. The work you do in coverage, particularly of city-council appears to be unrivaled. I probably don't agree with your stance on every issue, but the legwork you put into reporting is nothing short of patriotic considering how close investigative political journalism is being to flat-lined locally.

You are a hero. Thank you again.

Had Enough Indy? said...

anon 11:02 - you are too kind.

I just think we have a better shot at improving our City if we discuss facts - not make up stuff in an attempt to get our way.

Thanks. Feel free to disagree here, too.