Vigo County and Indiana spotlight in new jail population study

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Here’s a startling statistic, according to a national institute the incarceration rate in Indiana is growing at a rate second only to Texas. That’s why Wednesday local and community leaders gathered at the Vigo County Public Library. They heard jail data just released Wednesday, from the VERA Institute of Justice, a nonprofit that studies incarceration. 

“What we know is that no state’s jail population had grown so dramatically as Indiana’s in more than a decade,” Outreach Director and Public Affairs Strategist for VERA Institute of Justice Jasmine Heiss said. 

Jail overcrowding is nothing new to Vigo County. But Wednesday local leaders and residents gathered to hear VERA Institute of Justice an independent nonprofit national research and policy organization.  

We picked a handful of places where a, the problem is pervasive but b, we also see opportunities for reform. And certainly, we are behind the ball in places like Vigo County,” Heiss said. “There are many other counties that have already invested in incredibly expensive jail expansion projects. So now it’s stemming the tide of what is becoming a worse problem in places around the county.  

Its goal is to make jail information public and to help tackle America’s mass incarceration.  

Indiana is the 2nd in the country for growing incarnation rates just behind Texas.  

One of the reasons for the spike stems from state policy that makes county jails house level 6 felons, according to the VERA Institute, 

Plus, the study also blames the high number of people missing pretrial court dates.    

“Today it’s smaller cities and rural counties that have the highest rates of incarnation and in Indiana an estimate from the Sheriff’s Association is that approximately half of Indiana’s counties are building or planning jails,” Heiss said.  

For those in attendance the statistics were overwhelming. 

“It was an eye opener to see how we compare to other communities that you would think would have a high incarceration rate,” Vigo County Commissioners Brendan Kearns said. “That I look to gain from this how can we improve our systems even more to kind of keep people from being in jail so long.”  

“We need to improve but she’s here because we have a real opportunity in Vigo County to change that going forward,” Vigo County Councilmember Lisa Spence-Bunnett said.   

More than 80 people attended the meeting however, only a handful of those were local leaders. 

“The community is certainly exhausted with the whole topic but it’s because there hasn’t been meaningful dialogue of the options and alternative,” Vigo County Tax’s Payers Association President Charlie Williams said. “And the conversation hasn’t been joined by our elected officials’ period. 2 of 10 attended.” 

Over the next few days members of VERA will meet with local officials and members in the justice system to learn more about the county’s jail problem. 

Vigo County leaders are currently considering several properties for a new jail that has been ordered built as part of a federal lawsuit.  

A status report from the county on the progress of the new jail is due to the federal court April 30, and decision on a location must be made mid-May.  

If you would like to see the study click here

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