For the last several years, the Allen County Jail has held more inmates awaiting trial than those convicted of a crime.
It's a trend across the nation. Other large Indiana urban jails have shown similar population breakdowns.
But a local judge says recent changes are sending fewer non-violent defendants to jail.
The proportion of unconvicted Allen County inmates was 80 percent in 2008 and 75 percent in 2015, according to the most recent annual jail surveys by the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics. Other large Indiana jails in Lake, St. Joseph and Vanderburgh counties reported similar numbers.
“That has always been, I think, that way here,” said Allen County Sheriff David Gladieux. “Those numbers are always going to show the number of non-adjudicated are going to be greater than those adjudicated.”
Jail officials give county judges jail population demographics daily, Gladieux said. “They keep us from getting too overcrowded.”
More recent numbers for unconvicted inmates could not be confirmed. The jail had 752 inmates on June 15, with 268 awaiting trial, when The Journal Gazette requested numbers. However, another 182 inmates were not categorized.
A recent study by Stanford University professor Keith Humphreys found the number of unconvicted inmates nationwide is increasing while the general jail population is dropping.
“Adjusting for growth in the overall U.S. population, the incarceration rate per 100,000 for jailed convicts dropped 11 percent from 2000 to 2014, but the rate for those in jail who have not been convicted of a crime has risen 17 percent over the same period,” Humphreys wrote in a Washington Post opinion piece in April.
Nationally, the jail population rose steadily from 1980, when it was 184,000, to an all-time high in 2008 of 785,500. Since 2009, the number has slowly declined. By 2015, the total was 728,000.
The local push to release non-violent offenders started in late 2013, when former Indiana Supreme Court Judge Brent Dickson contacted Allen Superior Court Judge John Surbeck to ask if Allen County wanted to be part of a pilot program in implementing Criminal Rule 26 of the Indiana Rules of Criminal Procedure.
The rule states that “if an arrestee does not present a substantial risk of flight or danger to themselves or others, the court should release the arrestee without money bail or surety subject to such restrictions and conditions as determined by the court. Exceptions include murder, treason, a pre-trial release not related to the incident the inmate was arrested for or the arrested person is on probation, parole or other community supervision.”
The Allen County program was formalized about a year ago, Surbeck said. A pilot program finalized last year recommends the release of low-level felony offenders who are not considered a violent threat to themselves or others or a flight risk.
For a low-level felony rated 5 or 6, such as fraud, defendants are released from jail on their own recognizance, without having to post bail. The offender returns on their court date.
Allen County is using notifications similar to what people get for doctor's appointments to remind offenders of their court date.
For a second offense, the inmate would take the Indiana Risk Assessment System, or IRAS, that includes six tools. Inmates would be tested on issues like mental health and would involve probation and parole officers and the Department of Correction.
Some inmates would be monitored through the county's Drug Court Program's Criminal Division Service.
Currently there is no way to tell how effective IRAS is because Allen County has no software system that tracks these statistics, Surbeck said. Eventually, Allen County will receive a grant to install the software. Marion and Grant counties have received such grants, he added.
Even with the pilot program underway, Michelle Kraus, a local attorney who also works as a public defender for levels 1 through 5 felony offenders, said she hasn't seen much difference for her clients.
“I feel like I don't have more clients out on bond even though we are on the pilot program,” Kraus said. “We certainly seem to have more people incarcerated than we do out on bond.”
Currently, she is the public defender for about 35 clients. Kraus said the indigent people she defends can rarely afford to post bond.
Surbeck called Allen County's bond system sophisticated.
“We do release a lot of people on the low end,” for charges like theft, he said.
Nationwide, the ACLU is challenging felony bail practices and recently settled with four counties in Mississippi to stop indefinite jail time for people who cannot afford bail when they do not pose a flight risk or are deemed non-violent.
The ACLU maintains the system is skewed to the wealthy and the lawsuit is one of the first to challenge felony bail practices.
“The government robs poor people of their liberty for no other reason than their inability to pay,” said Brandon Buskey, senior staff attorney with the ACLU's Criminal Law Reform Project, in a May 18 ACLU news release. “They sit in jail for days or weeks waiting for a release hearing, while their jobs disappear and their families suffer. Meanwhile, those who can pay go home, with the time and freedom to prepare for trial.”
The Washington Post contributed to this story.
By the numbers
Percentage of unconvicted inmates in county jails:
* St. Joseph County reported it didn't know the number of unconvicted inmates for 2012.
Source: Bureau of Justice Statistics Annual Survey of Jails