A memo from LSA on Department of Corrections inmate populations was provided to the General Assembly’s interim study committee on Corrections and Criminal Code. It indicates that the Department of Corrections’ inmate population is down about 3,000 inmates for Fiscal Year 2017 as compared to Fiscal Year 2014. A lot of this has to do with changes in sentencing standards that keep Level 6 felons in the local jail rather than sending them off to the state prison. (Increased levels of drug addiction play into this as well.) If I’m reading the bottom line numbers correctly (and there is a decent chance I’m not), it looks like this has resulted in the state spending about $30 million less per year than it did back in 2013.
There has been an increase in payments to the County to deal with this population, but I’m not convinced that those payments equal the increased expenses to County governments. Even if the operating expenses are accounted for, at a certain level of increase, counties have to start making capital improvements if jail populations increase. And that tends to be a quantum leap in expense. You have to build a new jail or new wing or something. And that isn’t cheap. I know there have been stories out of Vigo County where they seem to be having an awful time trying to increase the capacity of their jail.
Additionally, counties have less control over jail populations than the state does. Sentencing decisions are being made by state officials (the trial court judges). If jail populations get too expensive, the state has options (e.g. revised sentencing laws). Counties more likely have to just absorb the cost (e.g. raise taxes or reduce other services).
There seem to be decent penological arguments for keeping low level felons close to home. But, I definitely hope the General Assembly is keeping an eye on the shifted expenses and make sure counties are given sufficient resources to fund this additional burden without having to pave fewer miles of road or undertake fewer drainage projects.