A new study from Indiana University found that jail populations fell by about 32 percent across the state during the height of the pandemic - slightly above the national average.
Researchers say the pandemic could lead to long-term changes in local jails.
According to the study, Tippecanoe and Clinton counties saw reductions of over 20 percent in their jails. Montgomery County saw a nearly 50 percent decline in its jail census.
Washington County saw the highest declines, with roughly 62 percent of its inmate population being released.
Those changes were primarily made to allow for adequate social distancing and to protect people being held in jail.
Staci Rising is a Program Analyst for the IU Public Policy Institute who worked on the study. She said jail populations have begun to tick back up again and sheriffs say it’s likely due to the public going out more.
“They may start arresting people again,” she said. “For a while, they were issuing citations for things that they maybe usually would be arresting people for. So changes in law-enforcement activity, changes in the public’s activity, they think those things are contributing to the uptick in the numbers again.”
Rising said many sheriffs she interviewed hoped to continue using virtual courtrooms because they don’t have to move inmates around as much.
“Some inmates seem to prefer the virtual format, some attorneys seem to prefer the virtual format, it makes everything easier for everybody. So that’s something they anticipate or hope will continue beyond the pandemic.”
Rising said in many ways the pandemic highlighted issues of understaffing, overcrowding, and over-incarceration in jails that existed before the pandemic.
“Our hope is that criminal justice stakeholders and people in power to make decisions really take a hard look at these issues that have been highlighted by the pandemic, or exacerbated, and use this as an opportunity to reevaluate any policies that aren't working or haven’t been working as far as county jail operations.”