TERRE HAUTE —
Overcrowded conditions at the Vigo County Jail has prompted Sheriff Greg Ewing and his staff to look for ways to keep the daily inmate count at the court-ordered cap of 268 inmates.
The inmate census reached 334 Monday, but had been reduced to 300 by Wednesday.
Some of that was due to court-ordered releases of some inmates. Also, some post-sentence inmates waiting for transport to the Department of Correction were processed into the prison system.
Ewing said he is hoping for more cooperation among local agencies and offices to get the inmate count back below the cap.
“One thing I think we need to do as a whole — the criminal justice system — is to look at the whole process. From the time of arrest to the time of sentencing, to see what we can tweak,” Ewing said.
A jail is meant to hold individuals for up to one year before the inmate is released or sent to the DOC, he said, but in looking at some of the current inmate time served, a few have been held for up to two years.
A small portion of that reason is due to continuances of court cases, but several of the inmates cannot be released due to bond revocations or court orders.
The overwhelming charges against many of the current VCJ inmates are bond revocations, failure to appear in court and probation violations, he said.
Some of those are people who have missed past court dates, so the only way to assure those people will attend a future court date is to keep them in custody. Probation violations and bond revocations are filed against people who have already been through the court system or are awaiting trial, but have somehow violated the terms of their release.
Ewing said those people are usually not violent people, or else they would still be in jail or prison on their original charge. But there has to be some enforcement of court appearances and release conditions.
Doing a quick survey of information on the inmate population on Wednesday afternoon, Ewing said that 16 inmates were being held on charges of robbery, and four for possession of a firearm by a violent felon. Accusations of dealing drugs accounted for 24 inmates — 11 for dealing methamphetamine and 13 for dealing cocaine or other narcotic drugs — while seven faced a primary charge of child molestation or child pornography. Another 21 inmates had been charged with burglary, and 22 inmates face charges of either battery, aggravated battery or domestic battery.
“We are holding some serious criminals in here, judging by the charges,” Ewing said.
Another eight people are being held on forgery charges, and another four inmates for neglect of a dependent.
He also noted that of the 11 people being held on drunken driving charges, those people also have additional charges such as prior alcohol-related convictions, leaving the scene of an accident, resisting arrest, or failure to appear in court.
“The majority are C-, B- and A-felony charges,” Ewing said of the pending charges against inmates. Also, four people are being held on murder charges.
“We do hold some violent criminals,” the sheriff said. “The real key is, we’re not holding people we’re mad at. We’re holding people we’re afraid of.”
Ewing said that when he took office at the start of 2010, one of his goals was to get the overcrowding in the jail under control. Since the Community Corrections program had vacancies, the court system and legal defense attorneys worked with Ewing to get some eligible inmates transferred into the electronic monitoring and work-release programs through a pre-trial process.
That worked for some inmates, he said, but unfortunately for others, they soon found themselves back in trouble with the law, and back in jail.
“We had 10 months where we were at or below the inmate cap,” Ewing said.
But the census has steadily crept up inside the jail.
And that can lead to other internal problems for the jail staff. When the inmates are crowded, there are more inmate-to-inmate assaults, and less area to put those with discipline problems. It is also a strain on jail staff, because the same corrections officers who handle 250 inmates are the same number who handle more than 300 inmates.
The state jail inspector has long noted that the Vigo County Jail is understaffed on the corrections side, Ewing said, and he has considered hiring some part-time officers to ease the staffing issues.
But in the meantime, he said he hopes a solution presents itself quickly.
“I can’t make the process go quicker,” Ewing said. “I just keep them housed. So we need to work together to see if there is something we can do to make the wheels of justice move more efficiently.”
Reporter Lisa Trigg can be reached at (812) 231-4254 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @TribStarLisa.
Sheriff working to reduce numbers to court-ordered cap
TERRE HAUTE —
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