Pubdate: Sun, 15 Jul 2001
Source: Journal Gazette (IN)
Copyright: 2001 Journal Gazette
Author: Sara Eaton


Titus Jackson cringes as he describes how one of his two jail cellmates 
must sleep on the floor within splashing distance of the toilet.

He also is concerned about the spread of illnesses in a jail that at times 
has twice the number of inmates it should.

It is people like Jackson, who is serving time for non-violent drug 
offenses, who are clogging the Allen County Jail and other correctional 
institutions across the state and nation, according to national and local 
criminal justice experts.

"I'm not a violent person. I've never hurt anyone," said Jackson, 40, 
sentenced last week to 10 years on cocaine dealing and weapons charges. 
"There are guys in here serving less time for rape and child molesting."

Despite Indiana's efforts at alternative sentencing, the number of people 
behind bars jumped 60 percent to 34,676 statewide in the last decade, 
according to 2000 census figures released last month. In many counties, 
jail populations have doubled and even tripled since 1990.

The growth can be tracked to America's crackdown on drugs, with a focus on 
enforcement, longer sentences and more stringent laws for drug offenses, 
according to national and local experts.

The result in Indiana has been two new prisons since 1990 with two more 
under construction and new or expanded jails for some other counties.

In northeast Indiana the jail population more than doubled to 1,785, 
excluding about 150 inmates in LaGrange County, which somehow was missed in 
the Census tally.

Allen, Kosciusko, LaGrange and Noble counties have expanded or built jails 
in the last three years. In Allen County's case, it took a lawsuit to force 
the expansion.

While the public can take satisfaction knowing more people are being 
jailed, overcrowding increases medical and food costs and puts a strain on 
staff, said attorney Kenneth J. Falk of the Indiana Civil Liberties Union, 
which filed the Allen County lawsuit.

"With so many inmates so close, tempers flair," he said. "It creates more 
chance for fights, making it an unsafe place to work, because it's harder 
for guards to intervene because there are more people."

The drug war

Although census numbers include prisons, lockups and holding cells, in 
northeast Indiana the count generally reflects county jail populations. A 
minimum security prison in Noble County also houses about 100 inmates.

In Allen County, the jail population doubled from 356 in 1990 to 712 in 
2000. Part of the increase can be attributed to an overall rise in the 
population, said Fort Wayne Police Chief Rusty York.

The county grew by 10.3 percent to 331,000, according to census figures.

A May 1998 lawsuit filed against the county by the ICLU on behalf of an 
inmate resulted in a 250-bed jail expansion, which is currently under 
construction. At times before the lawsuit, more than 800 inmates filled the 
jail, which was built to hold 462.

Similar lawsuits were filed against DeKalb and Steuben counties in the 1980s.

When completed in fall of 2002, the Allen County Jail, at the corner of 
Superior and Calhoun streets, will fill a full city block.

The local explosion of inmates is also happening across the country. It has 
caused a flurry of construction of prisons and jails in recent years.

"We are now seeing the results of the war on drugs started in the early 
1990s," said Deborah Vargas, policy analyst with the Justice Policy 
Institute, a criminal justice think tank based in California and 
Washington, D.C.

In many states, including Indiana, the emphasis on stopping drug dealers 
and abusers led to mandatory jail time, bypassing a judge's discretion in 
sentencing, Vargas said.

Indiana law requires drug offenders to serve a minimum amount behind bars 
that cannot be suspended by a judge.

"Throwing them in jail doesn't address their addiction," Vargas said. "It's 
a revolving door."

A `knee-jerk reaction'

The majority of inmates across the country are non-violent drug offenders, 
Vargas said.

On July 1, 2000, 83 percent of Indiana's adult prison inmates who were 
convicted of a Class A felony A the most severe A were serving time for a 
drug offense, said Pam Pattison, Indiana Department of Correction 
spokeswoman. Of those convicted of a B felony, 98 percent were serving time 
for drugs. The 2000 figures are the most recent available.

The need for money to purchase drugs, particularly crack cocaine, often 
leads to other types of crimes, said Allen County Sheriff Jim Herman. 
Obtaining money for drugs is often the motive in burglaries, robberies and 
thefts, he said.

Public pressure to crackdown on drugs led to a "knee-jerk reaction," said 
Allen County Jail Commander Thomas Hathaway.

Jailing drug abusers and dealers was not a rational solution, but a rash 
decision that showed quick results without consideration of long- term 
effects, like overcrowding, he said.

"When you respond with a knee-jerk reaction, you don't see the effects 
right away," Hathaway said. "Jail is the stop for other programs that have 

There are alcohol or drug offenders who float in and out of the county jail 
a few times each year who probably do not need to be housed there, Hathaway 

"You could lay your wallet down in the room and they wouldn't steal from 
you," he said. "Jailing them isn't working. It's just housing them. But 
judges get tired of seeing these people, too."

Before strict sentencing limits, judges were criticized for giving 
different sentences to offenders committing the same crime, Hathaway said.

Now, some believe the sentences go too far.

"The penalties are stiffer for drug offenses. It's to the point now where 
they are far more severe than violent crimes against people," said Larry 
Landis, executive director of the Indiana Public Defenders Council. "Rape 
or armed robbery is a Class B felony with a sentence of six to 20 years, 
all suspendable, while dealing three grams of cocaine has a 20- to 50-year 
sentence, none suspendable."

Society as a whole is spinning its wheels fighting the war on drugs, said 
the Rev. Michael Nickleson, spokesman for the Interdenominational 
Ministerial Alliance in Fort Wayne.

"We need to go after the drug producers, not so much the drug users," he 
said. "There is this philosophy that if you remove the demand it will have 
an effect on the supply. Really, it's like picking the flower without it's 


Drug users need to be treated for their addiction more than they need to be 
assigned to hard time, helping them to turn their lives around, Nickleson said.

Although Allen County has a good alternative sentencing network, Nickleson 
said it could be used more, and additional programs should be developed.

One alternative program, the Allen County Drug Court, is helping.

After falsifying a prescription, a 22-year-old Fort Wayne woman said she is 
now working to earn a high school equivalency degree, as a participant of 
the drug court, which sets goals for non-violent offenders while requiring 
drug screening. The woman, in court Friday, declined to be named.

Work-release and community corrections programs are also credited with 
keeping the inmate population from increasing more than it has.

Allen County Community Corrections aims to rehabilitate offenders through 
increased awareness about the crimes committed, the victim and the 
offender, the idea referred to as restorative justice by officials, said 
Sheila Hudson, executive director.

The program keeps a few hundred people out of jail annually through 
specialized sentencing like home detention, community service or education 
for sex-offenders and substance abusers, she said.

Although about 70 other counties throughout Indiana have Community 
Corrections programs, Allen County's is thought to be one of the best and 
provides a good model for others to start from, Landis said.

Rather than expand the jail, the Adams County Sheriff's Department built a 
new work-release building with 44 beds, said Sheriff Bill Crone.

The program is intended for individuals convicted of non-violent crimes who 
are likely to succeed outside the correctional department but need 
structure to do so, he said.

Participants are required to report back to the building on time and must 
go through breath testing and other measures to ensure they have not abused 
drugs or alcohol while away.

"It's the honor system," Crone said. "There are no bars or locks."

Wabash County Sheriff Tim Roberts said work-release has helped maintain an 
inmate population close to capacity.

"We need to recognize the need for jails for people we need to be protected 
from, but not from those who harm themselves," Landis said.

"There is a use for them. We need to differentiate between the groups they 
are for. We are so far out of balance with law enforcement about drug 

Until society realizes that it cannot build it's way out of the drug war 
and that "brick and mortar" isn't the solution, drug addicts will continue 
to overcrowd prisons and jails, he said.

For Titus Jackson such a realization by society can't come quick enough.

Although he could be released from jail in five years with good behavior, 
Jackson prays that his ailing mother will still be alive when he is released.

While in jail, Jackson plans to take classes in hopes of reducing his 
sentence so his children are not completely grown the next time he is free.
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