(Lawrenceburg, Ind.) - As Dearborn County contemplates a possible jail expansion, not everybody thinks it is necessary.
Lawrenceburg defense attorneys Doug Garner and Alan Miller, partners at Zerbe Garner Miller Blondell LLP, say county leaders “have a responsibility to investigate all alternatives and get all the answers before committing to a $12 million expansion.”
In a public letter, Garner and Miller partly blame the way local judges assign bonds. In most counties, bonds are set in cash or surety.
“The vast majority of the time, our judges set bond in two parts, requiring both a cash bond and a surety bond. One purpose of this practice is to collect court costs, fines, and probation fees up front. This has resulted in higher bonds for minor charges in many counties. Many people arrested are unable to post bond and sit in jail pending the resolution of their case,” their letter stated.
READ THE PUBLIC LETTER FROM ATTORNEYS DOUG GARNER AND ALAN MILLER HERE (PDF).
The attorneys cited a study performed by the architecture firm hired to plan the jail expansion, Indianapolis-based RQAW. Today the jail holds 216 inmates, but in 2010 held on average 258. Plans for an expansion include 224 additional beds.
The same study verified that 45 percent, or 116, of the current jail inmates are being held pre-trial on misdemeanor charges such as OWI, possession of marijuana, disorderly conduct, underage drinking, and battery without serious injury.
“Many, if not most of these people do not pose a danger to the community nor pose a high risk of failing to appear on the scheduled court dates and therefore should not be held in jail while their case is pending.”
The attorneys argue that if even half of the misdemeanor inmates were released, the overcrowding problem would not exist.
Other possible solutions suggested by Garner and Miller include increasing the use of other detention tools such as house arrest, and identifying and only holding people who are identified as risks to not appear at trial or actually pose a risk to the community.
Garner and Miller find many points in the RQAW study to back up their argument. The study compared other Indiana counties of similar population to Dearborn County’s 50,502 residents. Boone County, Indiana has 221 beds for over 56,000 residents; Floyd County has 234 beds for 74,400; Henry County with 130 beds for nearly 48,000; and Noble County with 259 beds for 48,000 residents.
The attorneys want county officials to also examine why the average length of stay at the Dearborn County Jail is 70 to 100 percent longer than average stays at other jails studied by RQAW.
County taxpayers might be able to sympathize most with the attorneys about the costs of a jail expansion. RQAW’s study said an expanded jail would require $1.34 million per year in operating expenses when it reaches 100 percent occupancy.
No matter who is making the argument about the jail, it is a strong possibility that Dearborn County voters will have a final say on whether it happens.
Indiana law requires public capital improvement projects costing over $12 million to go to a referendum. However, Dearborn County council members indicated during a straw poll that they would send the issue to the ballot regardless of the price tag meeting that threshold.