It’s a lock

October 13, 2008

When discussing difficult public issues, we sometimes overlook the most obvious answers. Scott Newman, Indianapolis’ public safety director, notes that more than 6 percent of that city’s 14,163 felony arrests last year were of people who already had an unresolved misdemeanor or felony case:

At the core of Newman’s prescription to thwart the trend is forging stronger ties between the community and police, but also an idea that draws skepticism from other criminal justice and community leaders:

Lease more jail beds, possibly as many as 200, at a private jail to keep more people locked up and locked up longer.

Newman’s approach recognizes the reality that exists in most cities: There is a hard core of criminals that commits a disproportionate share of the crime. Figure out what to do about them, and the biggest part of the crime problem is solved. The problem with his approach is to figure out exactly which of the offenders are most likely to commit another crime — not so easy, as one criminologist points out. And that’s not exactly the point of bail, which is supposed to deal with flight risk, not habitual-criminal risk.

In Gary, meanwhile, they seem to have lost control of things altogether (in northwest Indiana — big surprise). They’re going to close the Gary jail to save about $400,000 a year and start housing their prisoners in the Lake County Jail in Crown Point. There seems to have been so little planning and coordination that the Gary City Court judge didn’t know about the plans until she read them in the newspaper, and the sheriff’s department said it isn’t clear yet who will be responsbile for the prisoners’ transportation. Sounds a little like our situation, in which the county said, “Oops, can’t pay for bridge maintenance any longer — you guys go ahead and figure it out now.”

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