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New order could keep less dangerous inmates out of jail

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ELKHART, Ind. --- The Indiana Supreme Court has issued an order for Criminal Rule 26, a program that is designed to use all resources to make educated decisions when it comes to putting inmates in jail.

Criminal Rule 26 is not required to be implemented, but the Indiana State Supreme Court highly encouraged all counties throughout the state of Indiana to adopt the program.

“It was their opinion that a number of people were being detained purely because they were poor… they couldn’t afford a minimal bond,” said Ken Cotter, St. Joseph County Prosecutor.

Criminal Rule 26 is designed to use resources to look at a number of factors about an arrestee, not just criminal history.

If a judicial officer determines that a person is not a high risk to themselves or the public and it is not likely that they will flee, then the Indiana Supreme Court suggests that the person likely does not need to be booked into jail.

St. Joseph County was one out 11 counties in Indiana to pilot Criminal Rule 26.

Cotter said he hopes they can expand upon the 7-question risk assessment survey conducted to determine if a person is a high risk.

“I am hopeful that we are going to start evaluating a little bit more when a person has a substance abuse issue,” said Cotter. “Just releasing them because they may not be a danger to the community, may not be helpful for them.”

Elkhart County piloted a project in 2016 with the Elkhart County Sheriff’s Department and is now working to implement Criminal Rule 26.

The county assessed a variety of people, looking at factors like the first time a person was arrested or a person’s role in the community.

The assessment revealed that more people were of higher risk than what was originally thought.

“You know the arguments for releasing people…’Oh, you know there’s so many people in the jail that don’t belong there because they’re lower risk,’” said Vicki Becker, Elkhart County Prosecutor. “When you really start digging in, the opposite is true.”

The study does not mean that low-risk people are not currently in jail, but it also does not mean people should be let out of jail for the sake of lowering the inmate count, according to Becker.

“If you just habitually continue to get arrested and violate the law, you shouldn’t be out. You should be in custody,” said Becker. “So I’m not confident this is going to have a positive impact on the jail’s population, but we’ll have to see. We just have to make sure we’re making the right decisions at the right time, based on the right facts as opposed to worrying about how many people are in custody or not in custody.”

The goal of Criminal Rule 26 is to use all resources and make informed decisions.

“And make sure that nobody is in jail that shouldn’t be in jail and those that are there are already being looked at from the perspective of ‘What can we do to reduce future risk,” said Becker.

Criminal Rule 26 is a complex problem and is not something to rush into, according to Becker.

Elkhart County hopes to have portions of the program in place by the spring.

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