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Porter County Jail cells

Jail cells stand empty in a general population area of the Porter County Jail.

CROWN POINT — Lake County is rushing to prepare for a statewide change in pretrial release policies that generally will require individuals accused of all but the worst crimes not be kept in jail for extended periods between their arrests and trials.

Criminal Rule 26, issued by the Indiana Supreme Court, starting Jan. 1 mandates the use of an evidence-based assessment and other information to determine whether an arrestee poses a substantial risk of flight, danger to themselves or danger to the public.

Individuals deemed low risk will be given a minimal bond — or perhaps not required to post any bond — to get out of jail, reducing the overcrowded conditions prevailing in many Indiana county jails and helping accused criminals access various assistance programs.

But figuring out who is a risk to themselves or the community takes work, and Lake County still is figuring out how many people it will take to make it work.

Lake Superior Judge Julie Cantrell told the Lake County Council Tuesday the Supreme Court has set an end-of-the-year deadline for counties to report how they plan to implement the new pretrial release requirements.

Councilman Dan Dernulc, R-Highland, predicted it will take at least six part-time risk assessors, five part-time bail commissioners and five part-time public defenders to evaluate arrestees and potentially speed their release from jail.

"We don't have the funding. We don't know where that's going to come from," Cantrell said.

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She said hiring a full-time county employee, perhaps a retired lawyer with criminal experience, might be more effective, even if it comes with a higher salary than what several part-timers earn.

"What I would like to do between now and maybe December is put some feelers out there," she said.

Council President Ted Bilski, D-Hobart, agreed Cantrell should figure out what's needed and come to the Dec. 10 meeting with a full budget and hiring plan for the council to approve in time for Cantrell to meet the Supreme Court deadline.

"Whatever you feel would be easiest to manage," Bilski said. "Discussions regarding the breakdown and structure will continue."

Several councilmen suggested funding for the extra staff is likely to come out of the sheriff's department budget, since fewer jail inmates should result in reduced operating costs.

The pretrial release initiative already is in effect in Porter County and 10 others across the state.

As a result, Porter Sheriff David Reynolds recently told the Indiana Jail Overcrowding Task Force the daily population of his jail is at its lowest level since opening in 2001.

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