There’s a fine line for those in the judicial system when choosing options for Vigo County criminals.
How severe was the crime they committed, are they a threat to the public, how likely is it that they’ll appear in court? All of these, top questions for local judges.
This is an issue that keeps jail staff frustrated and court officials on their toes.
“I always try to look at that, in each case. If the jail was not overcrowded, would I keep this person?” Judge Michael Rader said.
Vigo County judge Michael Rader deals mostly with lower level crimes like drinking and driving or drug cases.
However, he says often Vigo County judges may lean a bit on the lenient side when it comes to how long they order someone to stay behind bars.
Threats to the public will always be incarcerated, but that’s not the majority of inmates at the jail.
It’s actually those who’ve demonstrated that they won’t show up to court.
“Because if they don’t, we have to issue a warrant, we incur costs by having law enforcement go search for them, place them under arrest, bring them back to the jail. It’s a waste of a resource to do that,” Judge Rader said.
Vigo County Sheriff Greg Ewing agrees, resources are limited.
“You hear the chatter from the cell blocks, I’m glad I wasn’t arrested in clay county, I’m glad I wasn’t arrested in Sullivan County … It seems that people think that in Vigo County, you tend to get more chances,” Sheriff Ewing said.
That’s a part of his frustration.
“We have those people. Been in here 20, 30, 40 times.”
This is the Vigo County jail’s filing system. Those who’ve been in the jail since 2015 are filed here where they will stay on file? Until 2020.
One time offenders will be dead filed, some will continue to build a track record of their stay here.
Sheriff Ewing says it’s a bitter cycle. Regardless of how small the crime is that sent them here initially what they do and who they’re around once their out is typically what sends them back again and again.
“You can pull a lot of these cases and go back and look at their history and it starts out small until it gets to that point where they’re threatening somebody with a gun. So what’s the next step, if they’re willing to go in and rob a place at gunpoint, is it a far thought to think the next step is that they might pull the trigger?”
While the daily operations at the courthouse vary from the daily operations at the jail, one thing officials from within both buildings know is a constant, that the root of the problem won’t be solved from behind either of these walls.
Addiction is at the root. Early in his career at the jail, Ewing conducted a survey with his inmates.
“My simple question was, is your charge related to an addiction to an illegal substance or alcohol, when we got those back and tallied them up it was like 80% so you can look at why somebody’s here, but what’s the root of why somebody is here.”
It’s a problem that thrives out on the streets and grows into bigger concerns. It finds its way into both facilities.
It’s the purpose for the Drug Court Judge Rader oversees.
“Put them in program where they’re intensively monitored, held them accountable so they’re not committing additional crimes, not back in our jail, not heading to our prisons. Across the board … These problem solving courts are supported by every party,” Rader said.
And with construction for a bigger jail on its way, Sheriff Ewing says this will allow for programming within the jail that deals with addiction and mental health.
Groups of like-minded inmates will work together to pave a pathway to a brighter future.
According to Sheriff Ewing drug offenders only make up for 30 to 35 percent of the population at the jail.
Judge Rader says often if a person has demonstrated they can be trusted, in-home detention and work release are also commonly used at a much lower cost to the county.
The Drug Court will nearly double the number of people in the program after they started receiving funds in September from a one million dollar grant.
Judge Rader says no programs are 100 percent when it comes to rehabilitation, but the incorporation of mental health plays a big factor in success.