INDIANAPOLIS – A new study from the Center for Health and Justice Research at the IU Public Policy Institute found that changes made in 2020 due to COVID-19 reduced jail populations across Indiana and may have long-term impacts on jail operations.
CHJR researchers examined jail populations in 19 Indiana counties—La Porte, St. Joseph, Starke, Pulaski, Whitley, Tippecanoe, Clinton, Montgomery, Boone, Hamilton, Putnam, Clay, Hendricks, Hancock, Knox, Jackson, Washington, Dearborn, and Perry—from February 2020 through June 2020.
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.
Individual county rates ranged from a 4 percent overall drop in Washington County to a 62 percent reduction in Hamilton County. Clay and La Porte counties trailed regional and national reductions throughout the study, while jail populations in Dearborn, Putnam, and Whitley counties appeared to aggressively normalize after the first COVID-19 peak in April.
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.
Sheriffs’ offices also described operational changes they hope could become permanent fixtures in their facilities, including enhanced cleaning procedures, virtual programming, and video court appearances.
This study serves as a follow-up and more detailed investigation to the initial national brief originally published by CHJR in June 2020.