Jail overcrowding problems not going away

Evansville Courier & Press

Indiana sheriff’s are rightly concerned about new sentencing laws that may result in more prison inmates going to county jails instead of to state prisons.

It is an old story here in Indiana, where mental health facilities have reduced already the number of slots available for individuals in need of mental treatment. Consequently, for a number of years those inmates have been placed in already crowded county jail cells, facilities where staff members do not have the expertise to care for the mentally ill.

But now, to make matters worse, new state laws on sentencing are sending more inmates facing low-level offenses to those overcrowded jails, instead of to prisons.

The new sentencing laws made sense, but not when it meant sending inmates to jails that have no room for them.

According to a news stories, county facilities are built for individuals awaiting trials or sentencing, not those serving time, particularly if they are in need of treatment.

As a result, Indiana Rep. Greg Steuerwald, R-Avon, has introduced a bill seeking $50 million in annual funding for community corrections programs for these individuals. It would pay as well for probation, mental health programs, alternative courts for drug addicts, veterans and substance abuse treatment.

With sheriffs expecting a 20 percent increase in jail population, and with uncertainty existing about whether funding will be available, questions will likely persist in coming years about jail overcrowding and the care of the mentally ill.

This was distributed by Hoosier State Press Association. Send comments to awoods@tribtown.com.