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Who is in the Marion County Jail? Exploring Length of Stay through an Equity Lens

SAVI Talks - June 16, 2022
In 2015, criminal justice reform in Indiana changed the location where those convicted of low-level felonies served their sentences from prisons to local jails. During the following two years, the total jail population across Indiana rose by one third and overcrowding became more common. In response to this and in an effort to address some of the underlying causes and impacts of incarceration in Marion County, community advocates, the City of Indianapolis, IMPD, health providers, and the courts enacted policy changes in which those charged with a crime in Indianapolis could receive treatment or reduce jail time while waiting for trial.

To better understand the Marion County Jail population, some of the challenges it faces, and how longer-term stays relate to these, we examine inmate and booking data obtained from the Marion County Sheriff’s Office. Our analysis explores length of stay and the presence of mental health and substance use among Marion County Jail inmates, drawing attention to the characteristics of those with longer lengths of stay or charges that might merit alternative responses in the community or reduced jail time. We also examine racial disproportionalities within the jail, as half of inmate bookings in recent years are from the Black community, in comparison to the racial composition of Marion County, which is only 30% Black.

The subsequent findings inform the identification of promising approaches to addressing the size and composition of the local jail population and the needs of those impacted by incarceration. This has the potential to reduce the impact of incarceration on the families of those who are jailed and the socioeconomic fabric of communities.

Rebecca Nannery, Polis Center Sr. Research Analyst, and Matt Nowlin, Interim Community Analysis Manager, present highlights from their research. Katrina Pross, criminal justice reporter at WFYI will moderate a panel discussion. Panelists include Bianca Harris, MS, LMHC, Founder and Owner, The Phoenix Nicolas Center, LLC; Josh Riddick, Organizer for the Black Church Coalition, Faith in Indiana; and James Wilson, CEO, Circle Up Indy, LTD.

Daily Jail Population

Monthly Average, 2013-2021

People with an alert stay in jail longer than others when booked for a felony.

Percent of bookings by highest charge level and presence of alert (people with an alert associated with any booking)

Community Trends Report

SAVI Talks Presentation


Here are some questions we received during this event.

Where in Indiana was the Indiana Risk Assessment System piloted?

The pre-trial risk assessment was piloted in Allen, Bartholomew, Hamilton, Hendricks, Jefferson, Monroe, Porter, St. Joseph, Starke, and Tipton counties. (source) There was also a seperate list of pilot counties for the community supervision assessment, which is available here.

Does Marion county jail use the Indiana Risk Assessment System?

Yes, every county in Indiana uses this system, including Marion County Community Corrections. This audit from 2020 contains specifics about the system’s implementation.

Since officers are included on the crisis team and are the ones to complete the evaluation, have they been provided with anti-bias training? Or any specific training related to this program at all?

Yes, all members of MCAT teams receive training, including the officers. Details of the training are explained in this evaluation, but in summary, the training includes a mental health overview, crisis intervention training, police and safety, first aid, and awareness of systems and programs. Also, since 2021, all new recruits undergo an interrupting racism training.

What about trans and non-binary people in jail?

This is a weakness in data collection and data systems at the Marion County Jail, and is a common problem across Indiana. Gender information is only connected as binary “male” or “female” values.

Does this data account for people who had multiple charges?

This analysis does account for people with multiple charges. When discussing statistics about bookings or people, these include bookings and people with multiple charges. When discussing charges or offenses, we associate one charge with each booking: the most severe charge. Each charge has a code that notes its severity. This is a useful lens for analysis, but it does “flatten” some of the depth in the data. The most severe charge may not be the initial offense that caused the police to respond to the incident. For example, a traffic stop could escalate to a charge of resisting arrest.

How do you manage and track bookings data? Does the sheriff give you access to the JailTracker database, or do you house your own database for that and pull the data on a daily basis?

We worked with the Marion County Sherrif’s Office to receive an export of data from their database. We then stored this in our own secure database. Other analysts in Indianapolis have experimented with scraping data directly from the city’s Inmate Lookup Tool.

Are you tracking the social vulnerability index of the community in which each individual booked lives/resides?

This could be the subject of a future analysis. Seventy percent of bookings had the address where the arrest was made, and 98 percent of inmates had a residential ZIP code. Very few inmate records had an exact residential address (0.3 percent).

Are the bookings with a suicide alert also counted among the bookings with a mental health alert?

Yes, suicide alerts and segregation alerts are both subsets of mental health alerts, so they are included.

Do we know how many of those arrested or in jail are “homeless”? And, do we know as people are released from jail if they have a place to go, like a shelter, apartment, etc.?

There were 2,795 inmate records marked as homeless in our dataset. That information essentially was collected beginning in 2018, though a very small number of records have address information (2 percent) before 2018. We do not know where they were released unless it is to a hospital, home detention, or another correctional facility. A focus on these homeless inmates could be the subject of a future analysis.

Where does violent crime like murder fit in?

On any given day, 50 to 60 percent of people in jail are there for a violent offense. Murder is a rare crime, and there have been only 151 bookings for murder since 2018. However, these bookings have resulted in 45,276 bed-days, the 23rd highest of all offenses.

Was there an age stratification?

Date of birth is available in this dataset, but it was not part of this analysis. This would be an important dimension for future analyses.

What are the best expungement resources for low-income folks across the state, especially rural areas that don’t have as much access to city resources?
Neighborhood Christian Legal Clinic, Indiana Legal Help, and Indiana Legal Services can help with expungement.

Articles and Story Maps

Explore other research and interactive content we have developed around equity.

Modern Redlining in Indianapolis?

Our analysis of one million loan applications since 2007 shows that, even when income and debt are the same, having a Black applicant on the loan increases the odds of being denied by 2-3X, and applying for a loan in a historically redlined neighborhood increases the odds of denial by 50 percent.


Rebecca Nannery
Senior Research Analyst,
The Polis Center

Jay Colbert,
Data Manager,
The Polis Center

Erik Steiner
Consulting Research Analyst,
The Polis Center

Matt Nowlin,
Community Analysis Manager,
The Polis Center

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