TIPPECANOE COUNTY, Ind. (WLFI) - A new study from the Center for Health and Justice Research (CHJR) examined those impacts locally in 19 of Indiana’s counties: La Porte, St. Joseph, Starke, Pulaski, Whitley, Tippecanoe, Clinton, Montgomery, Boone, Hamilton, Putnam, Clay, Hendricks, Hancock, Knox, Jackson, Washington, Dearborn, and Perry counties. This study was conducted between February 2020 and June 2020.
"Jails and prisons and incarceration facilities generally were identified you know really early on as risks and potential hotspots for the spread of COVID-19," said Kevin Martyn one of the researchers for the study.
The study found that jail populations in Indiana generally fell at a quicker rate and remained lower than regional and national averages yet varied widely from county to county. Overall, jail populations in Indiana fell 32 percent during the first part of the pandemic compared to 27 percent nationally before increasing 3 percent by the end of June.
"Majority of counties the way it worked was judges and prosecutors would get together and sometimes in coordination with sheriff’s offices they would make recommendations on who to release," said Staci Rising another researcher for the study.
The study also looked at operational changes implemented during the pandemic, including inmate release, court-related proceedings, inmate education, and more. When evaluating inmate releases to reduce jail populations, the seriousness of charges and criminal history were the main considerations, though other factors—such as bond amounts and inmate health risks—also contributed. The overwhelming majority of study participants indicated they did not believe COVID-related releases would impact crime rates in their areas. While it's unclear if the changes that have allowed certain offenders to get out earlier will stick around.
"Even if the sheriff’s department changed their policies or courtrooms such as prosecutors and judges changed their policies it would really take a partnership with the police to continue the lower jail populations beyond the pandemic," said Rising.
Researchers say that some of the changes in jail protocol like the virtual court hearings will likely become permanent.
"It's a lot easier for the sheriff's staff when they don't have to physically transport people from the jail to the courthouse and back,” added Rising. “I know that sheriff’s departments across the state are really hoping that video court sticks around."
Overall the study found that Tippecanoe County's jail population shrank by 22 percent during the height of the pandemic. To read more about the study click here.