Q&A for Boone County Justice Center

The LIT rate increase for Public Safety was presented as having the long-term benefit of funding this project. Is that still the case?

Tom Santelli, County Commissioner:

The public safety LIT is different than the Jail Lit with the passage and adoption of Indiana House Enrolled Act 1263, signed by Governor Eric Holcomb on March 21, 2018. Counties across the state of Indiana are allowed to increase local income tax (“LIT”) rates to fund or maintain a county jail. Most counties are now able to raise LIT rates by 0.2% This legislation was passed to address overcrowding issues and limited resources to pay for expanded or new jails.
While most LIT rates are addressed by a local LIT Council made up of both county and city/town officials, HEA 1263 gives the county fiscal body sole authority to implement the new rate. The county jail LIT rate may not be in effect for more than 20 years. Revenue from the new rate must be maintained in a separate dedicated county fund and used by the county only for paying for correctional facilities and rehabilitation facilities in the county.
IC 6-3.6-2-14 Defines Public Safety which covers 14 different categories of expenses. These funds are distributed without taking into account the county has to cover PSPA (911 call center), jail, juvenile detention, prosecutor, programming and so many other expenses the towns and municipalities do not have to cover. This leads to the thought of a more equitable look at funding jail operations. When we passed the PS-LIT we focused on operations, police, fire, and operations. We have been very prudent at the county level in the use of these funds.
There are a number of pressures on the county jail and programming systems. Within Boone County, with the increased number of officers and staffing, we are catching more miscreants. Our population has doubled going from 35,000 in 1992 to 70,000 in 2020. We are also seeing more crime cross over into Boone County from Marion County. Boone County has been recognized as the 5th safest county in the country while Indianapolis is recognized as the 12th most dangerous city in the country and some areas such as the IMPD Northeast District as the 5th most dangerous in the country. We are particularly grateful in BOONE COUNTY for the tremendous level of cooperation between the county, town municipality, state and federal levels of public safety. While the PSLIT tax could have been approved up to .25% this would not have addressed the disparity of responsibilities pushed onto the county.

There have been several initiatives from the state level to increase and expand community corrections while lessening jail stays, has Boone County fully incorporated these initiatives or are we still in the process?

Tom Santelli, County Commissioner:

I serve on several boards including:

Probation and Community Corrections
JDAI (Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiatives)
Family Recovery Court
Boone County Drug Task Force
Lt Governors Commission on Mental Health & Addiction
I have served on the SCAC board (Sylvia’s Child Advocacy Board) and work with the Prosecutor in a number of areas including strategic planning and funding for key areas and programming. I have participated in the Federal Drug Task Force Training
As you know from my answer to your first question the state redefined the felony system in 2014 which pushed level 6 felonies to the county jail. We started looking at these requirements with our first jail study in 2015.  Our second jail feasibility study conducted in 2018-2019 was more in-depth, looking at a number of factors you mention and many more aspects. We are now finishing the scoping process through our stake holders and architectural work on the new justice center in the form of a build operate transfer.
Indiana Code 5-23, or the Build Operate Transfer statute was enacted in 1997 and establishes the framework for Build-Operate-Transfer agreements. With this statute, small municipalities and local government entities have an avenue to enter into P3 contacts for projects.
I would present to you, based on my direct experience, we are a leader in the felony diversion, probation and community corrections, JDAI, mental health and addiction treatment processes. We are working to do a better job communicating our work, in a number of areas, at the county level, to our stakeholders. As you have seen we are hard at work on the communications pieces, which is prompting more engaged dialogue.
Our mental health and other programs have been remarkably successful in reducing recidivism as has our JDAI programming. We are responsible for the welfare of any individual arrested or incarcerated so we have important risk management responsibility. For example, all in, a fatality in the jail system can cost the county $5MM+.
Aspire and Integrated Wellness (InWell) are working directly in the jail with excellent success in treatment and building bridges between our inmates and their communities. The lack of programming, treatment and bridging, is recognized as one of the leading contributors to recidivism. We have an ongoing GED program. We further take the approach to treat each person whether they are incarcerated, on probation, or community correction with the intent of helping them become more productive and constructive members of our communities. My personal experience hiring individuals on work release, re-entry programs, Work One, WOTC and other support programs for ex-offenders has been very positive. We have had successes on the first time through our programs and others after as many as 11 times in the system. I have worked with individuals from start to finish in drug treatment programs.
Our biggest challenges have been funding and space. Our recent requests for grant funding our drug court and additional resources for our felony diversion programs were turned down for 2022. The end result, we are having to fund these programs locally.
Covid presents additional challenges where we had to immediately address jail overcrowding. With as many as 246 inmates in 2019 we were well above an acceptable level of incarceration, within our limited capabilities. We currently have as many as 2,000 people in our probation and community corrections system, not to mention about 1,000 outstanding warrants throughout the county. We did petition for the ability to limit our jail population however the courts are telling us we have to accept folks brought to the jail. We do have the option to send individuals to surrounding jails which increases county costs.
We have robust programs geared towards felony diversion and recidivism reduction. We need more space and funding, simply stated. We are over-crowded

Why the Increased Jail Population?

Tom Santelli, County Commissioner:

Criminal justice code reform in Indiana, through the legislature, revised the felony levels in 2014. These changes packed the county jails with Level 6 felonies. Nearly half the people housed in Indiana jails were there on a low-level felony charge, and in some counties, this population by itself exceeded the capacity of local jails, contributing to overcrowding and rising cost at county jails across Indiana. The shift has left many county jails struggling to make room for the influx of inmates and keep up with the costs of housing them.
In 2015, the Indiana General Assembly passed a separate House Enrolled Act 1006, which mandated among other things, that the lowest-level felons, Level 6, be housed in county jails instead of DOC (department of corrections). The county jail population just keeps going up. A low level felony carries a sentence of from six months to 2 ½ years. For example, after June 30, 2015, a court may not sentence a person to prison on a level 6 felony subject to certain restrictions, thereby remanding those persons to the county jail. Today in Boone County with overcrowding the extra inmates sleep in moveable plastic bunks.
Overcrowding creates safety issues for the community, public safety officers and for our inmates. We are currently unable to classify inmates so you could end up with predator vs prey in the same cell. We have close to 2,000 individuals in Boone County on Probation and Community Corrections. We have close to 1,000 warrants that are not being served due to Covid and overcrowding. Sheriff Nielsen is successfully reducing recidivism by focusing on treating drug addiction and mental illness, which are two of the main underlying causes of Level 6 felonies, according to state law makers.
Boone County is working hard to keep offenders out of jail and out of prison in including pre-trail diversion, which includes risk assessment which helps to lower the jail population. At the same time, the jail population in Indiana shot up 32 percent over the two-year period 2016-17. According to the Vera Institute, an independent research institute that analyzes the U.S. criminal justice system, the institute reported that 64 of Indiana’s 92 county jails are overcrowded. This increased happened just after Gov Pence signed the 2015 justice reform bills into law.
It is estimated 1 in 4 felonies are Level 6 felonies largely driven by drug-related offenses, such as receiving stolen property, possession of methamphetamine and possession of syringes and needles.
In 2018 the Indiana prison population stood at 46,903 including Level 6 felons in county jails and community programs.
Juvenile Justice Reform SB 368 among other things prohibits a juvenile arrestee from being housed with adult inmates prior to trial which adds additional requirement to our county jail. Our current Boone County Jail opened October 20, 1992 with a rated bed capacity of 110, at that time we had 67 prisoners. The original bed capacity of 110 was double bunked to a rated capacity of 214 in 2007. Dispatch (our county 911 system) opened in 2006. We are currently overcrowded in many areas of the operations well beyond our ability to accommodate the inmate population.

What is our current census of actual residents in the jail, what has the average census been for the last 12 months, and how has covid restrictions at the jail played into the at number?

Please follow this link to see the answer: https://www.livinginboonecounty.com/2021-census-of-boone-county-jail-residents/

What is our current recidivism rate?

2021 YTD – 47.39%
2020 – 48.59%
2019 – 42.44%
2018 – 45.07%

Would you kindly provide the reasoning for expanding the jail?

Jeff Wolfe, County Commissioner:

This has been a project that has been in the planning stages for many years. While Covid temporarily created an artificial drop in the inmate population, the months, and years prior to that had our population at a level in excess of the recommended limit for the facility.

We had a jail feasibility study done almost 3 years ago which showed that our population growth in the county and the increases in arrests and pending warrants predicted a need for more than 200 additional cells in the next 20 years. While no one ever wants to build more or larger facilities of this type we find ourselves in a situation where we are forced to face this reality.

The team we have put together has put our focus on the rehabilitation of and the treatment of those individuals who find themselves incarcerated. Most of the arrests made today are related to either mental health or addiction. Sheriff Nielsen has developed a program over the last several years that has provided extensive mental health treatment on a weekly basis and is wanting to expend that program even more. This new facility will help with that effort as well.

We currently have utilized every square inch of the existing facility and the growth in the county has created a very immediate need for additional administrative space for the Sheriff’s staff. We currently have individuals working in areas that were built as closets or storage areas. Our current infirmary at the jail is a very small room with one bed in it.

We also are facing impending needs for additional space in other areas of county Government including the Prosecutor’s office and the Coroner’s office. The additional arrest activity mentioned before has forced expansion in the prosecutor’s office. To accommodate the growth of that office we are finding ourselves in need of moving some offices. In doing that we feel the best scenario would be to have the office of Probation and Community Corrections at the Justice Center to allow for immediate efficiencies and for those to be developed in the future to a greater extent.

While we understand the concern, we have developed a project that is focused on only our expected needs. The population of the county has doubled in the years since the current facility was built. Currently the financing climate is very favorable to large projects like this one and we fell like this is the right project, at the right time for the right reasons.

I hope these comments have been helpful, I would be happy to provide additional information. The county has developed a web site solely for the purposes of providing information on a wide variety of topics. There is a tab on the web site related to the Justice Center project. Please see https://www.livinginboonecounty.com/ for additional information. Please understand we are adding content to this site on an ongoing basis as it is available. Be sure to share the site for others to use as well.