The numbers show a unique trend when it comes to the number of Hoosiers either in jail or in prison.
The number of people in state prisons went down in the last year by about 3-percent in 2021, adding onto a 12-percent decline in 2020. But the number of people in jail went up 12-percent. Jessica Hess, a researcher with the Vera Institute who helped author the study, tells Indy Politics that jail populations are highest in rural areas of the state.
“There are a couple of primary things that have driven rural jail populations and smaller city jail populations,” she said. “The first, unsurprisingly, is pre-trial detention.”
That’s the period between when someone gets arrested and when they go to trial. This is the period one usually posts bail to get out of jail. But, Hess says the problem is that more often than not, people can’t afford bail.
“You know, when courts set bail that is too high for people to pay and they either sit in jail for the months or weeks until their family can scrape together money, or they sit there until the end of their case, that means functionally they are being preventively detained even though they have this right to bail,” she added.
She also said rural parts of Indiana are not well connected to places to help habitual drug offenders get the help they need to get clean, so the only option for many is to put them in jail, away from access to drugs. Hess said not only does this increase incarceration rates but also takes a toll on an individual county’s finances.
On that same note, she says counties are building larger jails to facilitate the higher rate of people going to jail. Those larger jails cost money, which is being put towards construction costs as opposed to efforts to combat drug abuse.
Hess said their research shows that holding people in jail and longer prison sentences do not have a correlation with lower crime rates throughout the U.S.