Michelle Goodman, Staff Attorney | Office of Court Services
Jail overcrowding is not a new concern, yet the degree to which multiple factors impact jail populations is very different. Many counties are actively working to address jail overcrowding while other counties that are not overcrowded are experiencing other challenges. Why are counties having such different experiences? What solutions can help counties experiencing overcrowding? For those in jail, how do we work to reduce the likelihood they return? These questions were the focus of the Jail Overcrowding Task Force study.
The thirteen-member Jail Overcrowding Task Force, established by H.E.A 1065-2019, held three regional meetings in the fall of 2019 and received twelve different presentations from criminal justice stakeholders outlining their current programs and projects, data and trends, challenges and barriers, and proposed solutions. Task Force member Hendricks County Sheriff Brett Clark said, “This work provided a great platform for getting everyone on the same page. Having so many stakeholders present along with the public input and open dialogue provided an excellent framework for moving ahead. Our hope is that the discussions will continue and that our state will be at the forefront of this effort.”
The wealth of information presented highlights the diverse inputs and processes within the criminal justice system impacting jails and recidivism reduction efforts. This led the Task Force to make seven detailed findings regarding:
- the variety of factors contributing to local jail populations
- the need for real-time, integrated jail data
- the use of multiple jail management systems limiting reliable data analysis
- the need for connectivity among various criminal justice agencies’ data systems
- the limitations of current data collection methods
- the wide variation of local resources impacting the availability and effectiveness of services
- the barriers in accessing treatment services
The Task Force concluded viable solutions to address the needs of the jail population must align with the specific needs of each county and cannot be characterized as “quick fixes.” Because of this complexity, their recommendations establish a framework to implement strategies for addressing the jail population and expanding evidence-based programs and services. “Addressing jail overcrowding will help build stronger communities,” said Doug Huntsinger, Indiana Jail Overcrowding Task Force member. “Input from across the state has helped us move toward our goal of tackling this challenge head-on and further empowering local courts and law enforcement.”
The Task Force made two initial recommendations to the General Assembly to provide a structured approach for reviewing and analyzing jail populations, developing model policies, and providing technical assistance: (1) The General Assembly should enact legislation to incorporate Evidence-Based Decision-Making Policy Team and workgroups into the Justice Reinvestment Advisory Council structure, and (2) the Jail Overcrowding Task Force should become a workgroup under JRAC.
In addition, the Task Force approved 20 short-term and long-term recommendations. The short-term recommendations focus on a two-year or less implementation time frame, while long-term items focus on more complex system issues and on-going strategies. These recommendations are organized into five major areas:
- data and evaluation
- behavioral health treatment, programs, and services
- case processing
- community supervision
More analysis and review of fiscal resources is necessary for full implementation. The Task Force highlighted current local and state efforts aimed at specific processes or contributing factors to help counties identify opportunities and incorporate improved practices and strategies or garner collaborative partnerships within these key areas. “The findings of the Task Force are a result of an amazing effort by all members to find the true causes of jail overcrowding in Indiana. I believe that counties dealing with jail overcrowding could benefit greatly by adopting the best practices referred to in the report. We have more work to do but we have made a great start,” said Rep. Greg Steuerwald, Indiana House District 40 and Task Force Vice-Chair. Examples of best practices from the report include the work by the EBDM Pretrial Workgroup and the 11 pilot sites (the subject of a separate, detailed report), and the Division of Mental Health and Addiction’s partnership with several sheriffs to provide training and support for evidence-based treatment and services within local jails.
Achieving sustainable, positive outcomes to improve the criminal justice system will require intentional collaboration by all criminal justice stakeholders as well as coordination at both the state and local level. Reflecting on the work of the Task Force, Chairman and Supreme Court Justice Steven David noted this is just the beginning, “An incredibly talented group with varied perspectives worked very hard. We hope this effort and the report serves as a road map for consideration by the executive and legislative branches and leads to continued historic collaboration between all three branches of Indiana Government – both on the state and local level. Hopefully, this is the catalyst that will continue to spur new ideas, action, reform and best practices throughout the state. It was an honor and privilege to serve with so many experienced and caring people and experience first-hand not only the challenges that Indiana Sheriffs face but the great work that is being done.” Let’s resolve to continue this great work together.
Listen to the interview on jail overcrowding for the WFYI program “All IN.”
For questions regarding the Task Force, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.