The number of female inmates at the Jackson County Jail recently grew to levels never seen in the past.
This past week, the pod that holds 32 female contained 55, forcing the sheriff and jail staff to look into converting one of the male pods into an all-female area.
“If we get another four or five, we will have to fairly soon,” Sheriff Mike Carothers said. “The problem with that is now we have 60 females in a designated area for 62 to 65 people, so that’s good and manageable, but then we are putting the men way over again.”
Altogether, the 172-bed jail was filled with 216 inmates Wednesday.
Overcrowding is not a new issue at the jail in Brownstown, but the increase in women is something that has spiked in the past few years, Carothers said.
He blames the increased use of drugs, including heroin, methamphetamine and prescription pills behind more women getting arrested.
Last year, the number of women booked into the jail reached 602, up from 564 in 2013, according to Jackson County Sheriff’s Department Statistics Release. In 2012, there were 519 women, and in 2011, there were 508.
So far this year into April, there 181 women have been booked into the jail.
At the state level, the number of female inmates transferred to the Indiana Department of Correction also has risen over time, according to its website.
In 2013, the numbers reached 2,790 between January and December, which is the highest number since 1987. The number was at 2,366 in 2012 and 2,260 in 2011.
One of the difficult issues of having more women in the jail is that every once in awhile, one of them is pregnant, Carothers said.
“It’s not uncommon. We get about two to three a year, maybe more than that,” he said. “We make their doctor’s appointments, have to get them arranged with a jailer, who takes them to the hospital.”
Carothers said using an employee for a few days away from the jail can be expensive and time-consuming considering they must be with the female inmate 24/7 for security at the hospital.
After the baby is born and the woman is released from the hospital, the woman is brought back into the jail. The baby is either given to family or a guardian or Child Protective Services will step in.
“If they have just a little bit of time left, they may be released with time served and be put on probation,” Carothers said.
Carothers said he believes the reason the jail is so overpopulated is because inmates aren’t being expedited through the justice system quickly enough.
He said one solution could be a public defender’s office, which is currently in the works. The issue is to be brought before the Jackson County Commissioners after a group of county officials decided it was time to create one.
Currently, the county uses contracted attorneys who work out of their own private offices and have other cases to handle.
“The biggest problem is we have attorneys coming in from Indianapolis and North Vernon, and this is not their No. 1 priority,” Carothers said.
Carothers said he’s also in favor of a work release program where low-level offenders would have an opportunity to hold a job but sleep at a jail-like facility. He also supports the establishment of a drug court where drug users can enroll in a program that offers treatment and rehabilitation, leading to a reduction of recidivism.
These two issues have been discussed at length among county officials.
Jackson County Circuit Court Judge Richard Poynter, who has pushed for the public defender’s office, work release program and drug court, said he has seen the rise in female offenders in his courtroom.
“It’s the drugs and women getting involved with the wrong men who are dragging them down,” he said.
Historically, Poynter said it has been about 90 percent men incarcerated. But now, he said he estimates one in every four offenders is a woman.
Poynter said he believes a public defender’s office could help move cases along faster because the hired attorneys would be working only on the county’s cases. He said a work release program and drug court also would offer two ways for low-level offenders to get their lives on track and hopefully stay out of jail.
“All three of these will be an improvement to the whole system,” he said.
Poynter said he realizes, however, there’s potential for an even larger increase in inmates starting July 1 because of a change in state law. That change requires offenders convicted of Class D felonies and sentenced to one year or less to be housed in county jails instead of serving that time in a state prison.
Female book-ins at the Jackson County Jail:
2015 (through April): 181