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Lawmakers gather at Statehouse to tackle multiple issues

By ANNIE GOELLER - Daily Journal of Johnson County

INDIANAPOLIS — A crowded county jail, continued discussions and debates on redistricting and a surge in children needing a foster home are all prompting legislation from lawmakers who represent Johnson County.

This week, state lawmakers began meeting again at the Indiana Statehouse for this year’s legislative session.

Multiple issues top their to-do list, including education funding, the opioid crisis and concerns with the Indiana Department of Child Services, but local lawmakers have also made proposals inspired by local issues and hope to be able to achieve them as well this session.

One of the top issues is jail overcrowding, which has been a problem in Johnson County and in several counties across the state.

State Rep. John Young, a local attorney who represents parts of Johnson and Morgan counties, is proposing legislation he hopes will help with overcrowding at the Johnson County jail, which has been over capacity for months.

One issue officials have pointed to that has contributed to overcrowding at county jails has been a change in state law that required offenders convicted of the lowest level felonies to serve their sentence in the county jail, instead of a state prison. For example, during a study last year, 15 percent of the inmates in the county jail where there serving sentences for the lowest level felony.

Young’s proposal would allow a county to send offenders to serve their sentence in a state prison if the jail had been at 96 percent capacity for 30 of the last 90 days, he said. If the jail population goes back down again, that offender could be sent back to the county to finish their sentence, Young said.

The proposal wouldn’t fix the overcrowding issue, especially since the majority of people in the jail are there waiting on a court date or held without bond, Young said. But his hope is that it would provide temporary relief while counties come up with more long-term fixes, such as a jail addition or an expansion of their community corrections program that serves offenders on work release or home detention that officials in Johnson County have been discussing for months, Young said.

“There are a lot of proposals being floated,” Young said.

“Regardless, something needs to be done in the meantime.”

Young isn’t sure how much traction the proposal will get this session, especially with it being a short session with several other issues to handle, but he is hopeful some sort of temporary fix can be put in place to help counties struggling with overcrowding.

Redistricting, or updating the areas state and federal lawmakers represent, has also been a key topic of discussion recently, but whether a local lawmaker’s proposal will be considered this year isn’t clear.