Dearborn County Law Enforcement Center
(Lawrenceburg, Ind.) - Two Lawrenceburg attorneys are raising more objections to a jail expansion in Dearborn County.
Criminal defense lawyers Doug Garner and Alan Miller say the county does not have to spend $12 million to add over 224 beds to solve the Dearborn County Law Enforcement Center overcrowding problem. An expansion, if and when it reaches capacity, could also carry over $1 million in annual operating costs.
The partners at Zerbe Garner Miller Blondell LLP issued a public letter outlining their initial concerns with the proposed jail project in June. They call it “an expensive band aid.”
Garner revealed his new seven-point plan to cut overcrowding without an expansion during a meeting August 11 held by local tea party group We the Hoosiers. He says unless these steps are taken, the county would see its expanded jail fill up quickly.
Garner suggests the county take a second look at the way it funds Community Corrections. He said the program which oversees house arrest, work release, and road crew programs currently receives its funding through fees and grants.
“If the county directly funded Community Corrections, judges could send persons directly to house arrest immediately following their first appearance in court regardless of their ability to pay,” Garner said, adding the county’s cost per day for an individual’s house arrest is $10, as opposed to $30 to $45 per day for the same individual in jail.
They also say judges should release non-violent offending suspects on their own recognizance or set lower bonds, unless the person has a history of not appearing in court.
Much of the jail space issue occurs during weekends, when drunk drivers, misbehaving casino patrons, and other criminals are put in the jail’s holding cells.
“There is no doubt this is a significant problem, however, it is caused more by policies of local law enforcement, judges, and the prosecutor, than it is by an actual shortage of space,” alleges Garner.
He gives three suggestions for tackling the holding cell crowding problem.
The prosecutor’s office files new charges and requests arrest warrants on Friday afternoons or evenings, compounding the capacity issue. Those suspects are not able to see a judge until the next day court is open, usually Monday.
“This is a contributing factor to the overcrowding of the holding cells,” Garner argues.
One solution would be allowing more of those arrested during weekends to be released before seeing a judge. Garner suggests the county’s judges could develop a more reasonable bond schedule allowing non-violent offenders, particularly those with local ties, to post a minimal surety bond right away.
Garner says even law enforcement officers could take part in lightening the jail population.
“Indiana law allows for police officers to issue citations in misdemeanor cases,” Garner says. “A citation requires the person to appear in court at a future date. Many jurisdictions have trained law enforcement to issue citations in non-violent misdemeanor cases rather than burden their jails and holding facilities with persons accused of minor offenses. Local law enforcement typically does not use this alternative. As a result, misdemeanor offenders overcrowd the holding area waiting to be bonded out or for the court to set a bond.”
If the county does have to spend money for more space, Garner would like to see it spent on a separate work release center. He cites the county-paid study by engineering firm RQAW, which raised security concerns with the current practice of keeping the work release inmates mixed with the general jail population.
“A work release center would require less security than the jail, and therefore be less expensive to build. This solution would be significantly less expensive than the current proposal,” he said.
Even the legal representation for Dearborn County’s inmates can be blamed for overcrowding. RQAW’s study found the average stay in the jail is 70 to 100 percent longer than the average stay at other similarly sized jails in Indiana.
Garner says part of the reason for that is inadequate representation by some public defenders.
“In far too many cases inmates are brought to the courthouse for hearings after 30, 60 or even 90 days having never met their public defender. Better representation by the county public defenders would result in shorter jail stays and a reduced jail population,” says Garner.
The attorney suggests the county take advantage of up to 40 percent reimbursement from the state for court-appointed public defenders. He says the county does not currently receive any reimbursement from the state, but would have to meet requirements set by the Indiana Public Defender Commission to receive the support.