What to do, what to do? Finally, the General Assembly enacted a brilliant idea: Let’s just move the overcrowding from state prisons to county jails.
Beginning July 1, the Indiana Department of Corrections will no longer accept offenders convicted of D felonies and sentenced to 90 days or less. Beginning July 1 of next year, D-felony offenders sentenced to a year or less won’t be accepted. D felonies are lower-level crimes but include such offenses as assaults, drug offenses and property crimes. About 4,400 of the state’s 30,000 inmates are D felons.
Those offenders will stay in county jails, whether the counties are able to adequately handle the increase in inmates or not.
One problem will be cost. The state will save $12.5 million by 2020 because of the change, and it could decide to send some of it to counties. But that money wouldn’t cover all the costs related to a population increase, the need for more jailers, for example.
Then there’s the overcrowding, which is a concern in many counties. In Johnson County, for example, the inmate count is 321, just one shy of full capacity. Shelby County can house 203 and already has 196. Lawrence County has a capacity of 168 and a recent population of 175,
Indiana is a state not overly fond of home rule, but this was actually a pretty good year for local control. Allen County voters can have a referendum on county government structure, central Indiana voters can decide whether to fund mass transit expansion, and all 92 counties can decide whether to keep or eliminated the business personal property tax.
But the inmate transfer was a step back. It amounts to an unfunded mandate. Since the state complains all the time about getting those from the federal government, it’s unseemly that it has decided to send one to the counties.