Political and civil unrest were topics of interest Wednesday during a Crawfordsville Rotary Club meeting for which Montgomery County Sheriff Ryan Needham was the guest speaker.
Delivering a “state of the county” address of sorts, Needham fielded questions from Rotarians both in person and online in the dining room of the Crawfordsville Country Club.
Many questions concerned the ongoing coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and how it has affected inmate populations at the county jail.
“I will say with COVID — when it hit, we were as prepared as we could be,” Needham said. “We reached out to the courts early on, and said, ‘This stuff is going to hit us sooner or later and we need to be proactive about this because we can’t close.”
In interest of avoiding an outbreak among inmates, the jail released about 100 people who had no history of violent crimes. In fact, most had been booked on low-level charges and were simply awaiting upcoming court appearances, he said.
“We released several inmates and we got a lot of petitions about that; a lot of people were upset,” Needham said. “But they were all non-violent offenders. The vast of majority of inmates who were released, were released on probation violations. They were sitting in jail waiting to go to court, waiting to get sentenced, waiting for something, because they’d violated their terms of probation.”
Criminal Rule 26 was passed by the Indiana Supreme Court in 2016 and took effect Jan. 1 of this year following approval by the Board of Directors of the Judicial Conference of Indiana.
It states, in part, that all inmates must be released on bond or recognizance unless they present a risk of flight or danger to themselves or others, when possible.
This allowed the Montgomery County Jail and other corrections facilities to follow the recommendations of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Indiana State Health Department and the Montgomery County Health Department to slow the spread of COVID-19 by releasing low-level offenders, therefore avoiding the gathering of large numbers of inmates.
It is also expensive to house inmates on a day-to-day basis, Needham said.
“The state average ... for inmates is $37.50 a day per inmate, so you can do the math,” he said. “We released about 100 inmates at $37.50 per head, and that adds up quickly. Our budget has been saved — our meal money, transport money, medical money — I’m going to have a lot of money to turn back in at the end of the year because of this.”
Since March 9, the date Needham said COVID-19 arrived at their doorstep, the jail has been “selective” about who is booked into the jail long-term.
“If you came in, we had to have a place to segregate you where you wouldn’t affect an entire cell block or all of our staff,” Needham said. “That was the theory behind releasing a lot of them. For the vast majority — it worked.”
He also said few have committed another offense since being released.
“I don’t think we’ve released an inmate during that time that’s went out and committed a violent offense,” Needham said. “There’s been no violent offenses based on those people.”