The Indianapolis Star
June 25, 2006

No room at the jail
Some inmates released while others languish

Our position: To better protect residents, city and county must take major steps to confront jail overcrowding.

The cases of accused felons Earl Sharp and Lincoln Greene exemplify why resolving chronic overcrowding in the Marion County Jail isn't simply an issue of adding more jail cells.

Since his arrest on drug- and gun-related charges in December 2002, Sharp has languished in the jail for 1,292 days. His case has gone through two prosecutors, four defense attorneys and 31 hearings and pretrial conferences. Another lengthy round of hearings will come after his trial, scheduled finally to take place this week, because of a probation violation.

Greene, in contrast, was released from jail on a $10,000 bond six days after his February arrest for theft and cocaine possession. Greene had seen 11 public defenders and seven prosecutors handle one of his previous cases, still open at the time of his February arrest. That matter remains unresolved: Greene skipped a plea hearing in May.

For Kevin Charles Murray, counsel to Sheriff Frank Anderson, such cases exemplify that "we're aren't prosecuting and imprisoning."

He's right. Adding jail cells won't keep more felons off the street. A thorough overhaul of the county's public safety system is necessary.

The release of James Stewart, one of 1,400 inmates let back on the streets in the first five months of this year to relieve overcrowding, has spotlighted the crisis. Stewart was arrested last month on a driving-under-the-influence charge. Despite a lengthy criminal record, he was quickly released. He's now accused of killing seven family members in their Near-Eastside home.

For years, county and city leaders have tried to confront early releases. But the problem continues to grow worse.

Early releases increased 16 percent in the first five months of this year compared to 2005.

Those walking out of the jail include suspects accused of theft, midlevel felony drug offenses and even gun possession.

"I would have never thought of releasing on a lower bond a handgun and cocaine possession," says Superior Court Judge William Young, who is in charge of relieving jail overcrowding, "but now we release them."

At the same time, other accused felons are serving lengthy stays in the jail before trial. The average inmate at the main jail is behind bars for 91 days awaiting trial and sentencing, according to former Superior Court Presiding Judge Steven Eichholtz. Inmate John Glover has been held in the jail awaiting trial for more than 31/2 years.

The combination of early releases and lengthy pretrial incarceration means neither victims nor the accused are receiving justice.

The early releases also breed further disrespect for the law among criminals, convinced they won't serve serious time for their offenses.

The violation rate among suspects on pretrial monitoring by Community Corrections has nearly doubled, from 28 percent to 46 percent, according to director Brian Barton.

Taxpayers also pick up a bill of $2,000 or more each time an ankle bracelet or other monitoring equipment is lost or broken.

Local leaders have tried to solve the problems by adding more jail beds. The complex now includes four jails and 2,700 beds. Another 250 are scheduled to come online by year's end.

et, the system remains at capacity. A check one day this month showed three jails near their limits and a fourth, the privately run Jail 2, above its capacity by two inmates.

At the heart of the problem is the fact that cases move through the courts too slowly.

Turnover remains high among low-paid prosecutors and public defenders. As a result, several attorneys commonly handle a single case before sentencing or acquittal.

The lack of judges and magistrates to hear cases exacerbates the problem. As does the lack of courtroom space in the cramped City-County Building.

Some of the problems will be alleviated, at least slightly, next year with the addition of new courtrooms along with three judges and four magistrates. Additional prosecutors and public defenders also will be hired. And a reduction in the backlog at the crime lab is promised.

The improvements will be funded by a three-year increase in the county-option income tax designated for public safety.

None of this, however, will come in time to help those now being victimized by repeat offenders. Nor will the steps serve as a long-term solution.

A good interim measure would be to limit the number of continuances granted in a single case. It was once standard practice in the old municipal court.

The City-County Council also should consider borrowing against next year's COIT funds to quickly add more prosecutors and public defenders.

Charging defendants who skip court with escape, a count that can make the difference between getting time served and a sentence to a maximum-security prison, also could help breed respect for the law.

In the long run, officials should embrace plans floated by the Indianapolis Bar Association last year to build a criminal justice complex and replace the main jail. The move not only would confront the lack of courthouse space but also would increase safety in moving inmates to and from court.

Public safety is at a crisis point in Marion County. A dramatic step forward is needed.

Out and in

These inmates were released to relieve overcrowding at the Marion County Jail:

Jonathan Smith

Charges: Three counts of D-felony theft; had failed to appear for a previous court date.

Released: Feb. 20.

Time spent in jail: 72 days. Later pleaded guilty.

Joseph Stockdale

Charges: Two counts of D-felony cocaine possession.

Released: April 23.

Time spent in jail: 25 days. Picked up Thursday on charges of battery for allegedly slitting the throat of his niece.

Joyce Resnover

Charges: One count of D-felony cocaine possession, her third offense (and release from jail) in a month.

Released: June 8. She later skipped out on her court date.

Time spent in jail: 17 days.

Benjamin Hatcher, a.k.a. Benny Hatchett

Charges: Two counts of D-felony theft; picked up for skipping out on pretrial conference.

Released: Feb. 19.

Time spent in jail: Three days. Later picked up twice on charges of disorderly conduct and public intoxication.

These current inmates have been held for longer than a year:

John Glover

Charges: Two charges of murder, including the alleged strangulation of Tammy Gibbs, along with a habitual-offender charge.

Time spent in jail: 1,365 days.

Willie George Pargo

Charges: Include three counts of murder, seven counts of cocaine possession, seven counts of cocaine dealing and firearms possession by a serious violent felon.

Time spent in jail: 1,188 days.

Ronny Bradly

Charges: Include four counts of cocaine possession, two counts of dealing cocaine and firearms possession by a serious violent felon.

Time spent in jail: 802 days.

Ronald Cole

Charges: Four counts of cocaine possession, two counts of cocaine dealing, two counts of marijuana possession, two counts of marijuana dealing and dealing in a Schedule V controlled substance.

Time spent in jail: 614 days.