Rather than fixing “little things” in increasing the capacity of the jail, the ELTP representative said now is an opportune time “to look to abolitionist strategies.” “Abolition,” according to the group Critical Resistance, is “a political vision with the goal of eliminating imprisonment, policing, and surveillance and creating lasting alternatives to punishment and imprisonment.”
The harm reduction speaker also mentioned California’s federally mandated mass release of 33,000 prisoners starting in 2011 after some incarceration facilities had reached 300% capacity. According to a 2016 study published by the American Society of Criminology, “An astounding 17% reduction in the size of the California prison population, which occurred over just 15 months, had no effect on aggregate rates of violent or property crime.”²
Another individual at the committee meeting pointed out that in some communities, community bond funds “help bond out people who can’t afford to” and lower jail populations. In Vanderburgh County, about 80% of the people in jail are pre-trial detainees. However, according to this individual, a major obstacle to setting up a bond fund in Vanderburgh County is that here courts have the policy of always seizing bonds for fines following trial, regardless of who posted it. In other places, community bond funds “can function because they’ll get that money back and that fee is then required from the person as they participate in the court system.”
Other places–such as the city of Chicago and the state of New Jersey–have eliminated cash bond, which the individual indicated might be a solution to the overcrowding issue: “I’m sure you’re talking about a huge proportion of people not in jail, not even for 19 days,” the average length of stay at the Vanderburgh County jail, “if they didn’t have to post a cash bond.” The individual also brought up mediation as a possible alternative to incarceration.
A final speaker spoke about the “othering,” “disrespectful,” and “problematic” language used by committee members during the meeting. “When you treat people like criminals, they are going to continue to act like criminals. I think continuing to lock people up is not going to solve the problem.” They asked instead for “compassionate” responses.
This was the third meeting of the Vanderburgh County Jail Blue Ribbon Committee, which formed after the Vanderburgh County Detention Center received six code violations in October 2017 for overcrowding and understaffing. Although County Attorney Joseph Harrison said that he would draft a letter to the state explaining the county’s plan to correct violations, which would then be voted on at the Board of County Commissioners meeting on April 17, the letter did not make the meeting’s agenda. The deadline for the county to respond to the state is April 25; however, as of this writing, the county has neither announced their plan to correct the jail overcrowding problem nor shown transparency in what their decision-making process looks like.
1. Saloner, B., & Barry, C. L. (2018). Response to Pacula and Powell: Investing in harm reduction and alternatives to coerced treatment. Journal of Policy Analysis and Management. doi: 10.1002/pam.22048
2. Sundt, J. , Salisbury, E. J. and Harmon, M. G. (2016). Is Downsizing Prisons Dangerous? Criminology & Public Policy, 15: 315-341. doi:10.1111/1745-9133.12199