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County jails coping with pandemic

Many have released some offenders
Jail Handcuffs
Posted at 8:09 PM, Apr 08, 2020

INDIANAPOLIS -- At county jails across the region, inmates who might otherwise be sitting behind bars now, have been released early.

With a COVID-19 outbreak in a jail something no sheriff wants to see happen, steps have been taken to keep the facilities as safe as possible, both for jail staff and inmates.

There are three jails in Indianapolis, with space for 2,507 offenders. In early March, 2,225 people were incarcerated. As of April 8, the count is down to 1,566, according to information from the Marion County Sheriff's Department. Katie Carlson, a public information officer for the sheriff's department, said the courts have final say over who is let out.

"The courts are working with the Prosecutor’s Office and the Public Defender’s Office to lower the Jail population," said Carlson. "They have also implemented video court hearings. Lastly, the courts have requested that all Marion County law enforcement agencies issue summonses for non-violent misdemeanor cases. Since implementation, the number of new arrestees to the Marion County Jail has been reduced significantly."

At the Howard County Jail in Kokomo, Jail Commander Captain Robin Byers said there has also been a significant reduction in the inmate population. "We have worked with the courts to reduce our population and have reduced it by approximately 100 inmates," said Byers.

The jail has worked with the Howard County courts to identify for release non-violent offenders charged with low-level felonies. "Our medical department identified inmates with medical concerns listed as high risk," said Byers. "The courts reviewed the person's case and did authorize the release of some inmates identified as high risk. We ask the courts to consider sentence modification for those that had 14 days or less to serve. They agreed and they were released."

At the Hamilton County Jail in Noblesville, Sheriff Dennis Quakenbush is not dealing with an overcrowded facility. With room for 512 people, the jail is currently about half full. Only a handful of people received early releases.

"The courts reviewed and released six low-level offenders a couple weeks ago," said the sheriff. "Inmates being transported from other facilities are being reviewed closely. We are running five video courts to allow hearings to take place, which could result in the court's release of inmates.These are normal processes that would be taking place in person, but are now being done remotely."

Madison County has released 30 offeders, 80 have been let go in Hancock County, 22 in Bartholomew County, and between 60 and 70 in Johnson, according to sheriffs from each county.

The Delaware County Jail in Muncie can hold up to 250 people and currently houses 211, according to Sheriff Tony Skinner.
Because of COVID-19, between 45 and 50 people have been released to reduce the jail count. "The release of inmates was a decision made by myself, our judges, prosecutor, probation department & community corrections," said Skinner.

"It was important to create space to isolate inmates in the event of a mass viral breakout within the facility. It was also important to reduce exposure for our correctional staff. Any Sheriff that has to quarantine a large number of C.O.s (correctional officers) is in big trouble!"