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March 24, 2006
Many suspects violate home detention
Nearly 50% break the rules, some by escaping, official says
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Nearly half of the suspects Marion County officials put on home detention as they await trial end up escaping or otherwise violating the rules.
From June 2004 to July 2005, the county saw 314 of 721 people cut off their ankle monitoring bracelets or break other rules, nearly twice as many as the year before. About half were caught and sent to jail; the others were returned to the program, released or are still at large.
"They're running amok over here," said Brian Barton, the executive director of Community Corrections. His agency oversees home detention, work-release and other alternatives to jail. "When nearly 50 percent of violators are thumbing their nose at the program, there's a problem we've got to address."
The county has 143 people on home detention awaiting trial, up from 45 in 2001. The county continues to shunt more suspects into the program to keep the inmate population in the jail down.
Jail crowding in Marion County has been a long-standing problem that sparked a lawsuit and drew the scrutiny of a federal judge.
Not every county in Indiana or nationwide offers home detention. Those that do often acknowledge flaws in the approach but find it a cheap alternative to building more jails.
Several suburban counties around Indianapolis assign people to home detention, but in far fewer numbers than in Marion County. Officials reported few problems with violators.
Hendricks County has 64 people on home detention. An offender last escaped in June 2004.
"It doesn't happen very often," said Stephen Roberts, home detention coordinator. Those who do break rules face stiff punishment. "We prosecute to the fullest extent of the law."
The number of fugitives surged last year in Marion County, Barton said, because few people who escape home detention are prosecuted for that crime. Many of the fugitives -- who already face charges such as rape or robbery -- receive no serious penalty for their escape.
Prosecutors, however, said Barton's agency already has the power to punish offenders. David Wyser, the county's chief deputy prosecutor, blamed Barton and the courts for failing to use their ability to send fugitives to the county jail or state prison.
The alternative Barton calls for, filing new charges against those who break home detention rules, would only "clog the system" with more trials, Wyser said. Such violations would draw charges often less severe than those already faced by suspects.
"The hammer you have is that these people will go to jail for violations, not pick up new charges," Wyser said. "If they arrest the person for a new charge, they get processed and released back on the streets in two hours."
Making an example of a few violators might help send a message, he said, but Marion County Prosecutor Carl Brizzi does not want to waste resources on charges for every escapee.
Melina Kennedy, a former deputy mayor and the Democratic candidate facing Brizzi in this year's race for prosecutor, said the office should consistently file escape charges as a deterrent. She plans to hold a news conference on the topic today.
People assigned to home detention pay a $75 fee to start and then $12 a day, according to the Community Corrections Web site. The agency reported an income of $7.5 million from offenders in all its programs in 2004-05.
Marion County Community Corrections served 2,955 offenders in that period, including 1,321 in pretrial programs, according to its annual report. There are 1,572 people in all home detention programs.
Of 85 offenders who have currently violated home detention, 24 have not been rearrested.
Marion Superior Court Judge Jane Magnus-Stinson said the number of pretrial escapes has concerned judges, whose options are limited by overcrowded jails.
"There's a sense of lawlessness connected to jail overcrowding," she said. "Word travels fast that nothing happens to you for violations. If escape charges were filed, that would travel fast, too."
Call Star reporter Brendan O'Shaughnessy at (317) 444-2751.

Star reporters Tania E. Lopez and James Gillaspy contributed to this story.

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