Mental illness costs Marion County Jail millions

Medications in Marion County Jail

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — One of the largest mental health facilities in Central Indiana isn’t a psychiatric hospital — it’s the Marion County Jail.

When I-Team 8 Chief Investigative Reporter Karen Hensel rode along with Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department officers, there were five mental health calls in just one hour. Police were also called to the WISH-TV studios in October as a man tried to get into the building, claiming someone was after him.

“He’s got some issues where he needs to see a psychiatrist,” a friend of the man said at the time. “He canceled his appointment today.”

He was taken to a hospital instead of jail.


Then there was a man we are calling Sam to protect his privacy. IMPD Officer Michael Mack met Sam while I-Team 8 was riding along. Sam refused to leave an east side motel, and Officer Mack took a delicate approach with him.

“I am going to reach back and take that knife, OK? All right? OK? That’s kind of a big knife and I don’t want anyone to get hurt,” Mack said. “How about we go to the hospital so you can talk to somebody?”

Mack is specially trained through Crisis Intervention Training on how to spot people with mental illness, perhaps getting them help instead of jail time. It’s a 40-hour training program that new IMPD recruits go through. Otherwise, though, it’s voluntary for IMPD officers. They learn how to calmly interact with people. Every day, officers must determine if a person is a criminal or someone with a mental illness. Many of the mentally ill do not realize they are doing anything wrong.


IMPD Interacting with Man
“Sam” eventually agreed to be taken to the hospital but was back on the streets hours later.

Many are homeless. Sam, for instance, listed Wheeler Mission as his home address on his I.D. IMPD officers spent two hours coaxing Sam to cooperate. He finally agreed to be taken by ambulance to Community Hospital East to be seen. Instead of being arrested for resisting arrest and trespassing, CIT-trained officers put him on immediate detention to the hospital. Indiana sheriffs say most repeat offenders in Indiana have some degree of mental illness and don’t understand the crimes they commit.

Sam was back on the street within hours. He was picked up by police again the very next day. He’s not the only one. Some mentally ill inmates in Marion County have been arrested 17 times in the last 24 months.


“We believe a lot of the crimes … may not even be committed if they were on their proper medication.”

“There’s a tremendous cost,” Col. Louis Dezelan of the Marion County Sheriff’s Department said of the jail becoming a mental hospital.

Dezelan said of 2,300 Marion County Jail inmates, 40 percent have a mental illness. With that population alone described as mentally ill, the jail distributes 700 prescriptions every day. I-Team 8 requested a list of all drugs dispensed. The most common drugs are those used to treat bipolar disorder, depression and schizophrenia. Prescriptions for mental illnesses in jail cost $650,000 per year in Marion County. The budget shows the total cost to care for the mentally ill is nearly $8 million a year.

“It’s a huge chunk,” Dezelan said.

That $8 million includes the doctors, extra security guards and prescription drugs.


Top 5 Marion County Jail Drug Orders

Drug Amount Ordered
Quetiapine Fumarate 400mg 277
Quetiapine Fumarate 300mg 193
Viread 300mg 119
Lamivudine 300mg 112
Norvir 100mg 56

*Marion County Jail Orders Jan 2014 – August 2014

I-Team 8’s investigation found some inmates — not just those with mental illness — want to be in jail. It saves them on health care costs, passing the expense onto taxpayers.

Dezelan said one inmate cost tens of thousands of dollars in just one week.

“He had a $250 bond. No one would pay it because of the hospitalization that was needed while he was with us for one week,” he said. “We spent $32,000 on that individual.”

In both North Carolina and Oregon, suspects admitted they robbed banks for $1 to get arrested and get free medical care in jail. Inmates at the Marion County Jail are charged a $15 co-pay. But it’s rarely paid. Of the more than $500,000 owed, the jail has collected only $3,300 so far this year.


“They get care here, but not treatment.”

“They never should have closed Central State,” one man at the scene of an IMPD call said. “That’s where these people need to be is Central State.”

Twenty years ago, state mental hospitals like Central State were closed. In 2012, Indiana cut over $24 million, or 9 percent, from its mental health budget.

The National Alliance on Mental Health documented it as the second biggest cut in the country. Indiana sheriffs say its a return to the 1800s of putting mentally ill people behind bars.

“We think the majority of the people that are here classified as mentally ill shouldn’t be here,” Dezelan said of the Marion County Jail. “They get care here, but not treatment.”

In a mental hospital they would get counseling and medication.

“A lot of these incarcerations could be avoided, but also out in the community a lot of the crime could be avoided,” Dezelan said.

Once released, Dezelan said many go off their medications, commit more crime and so-called “frequent flyers” are right back in jail.


State lawmakers and the courts are looking for solutions.

“We can not afford to continue to just warehouse people and expect them to get better,” State Rep. Jud McMillin said. “If we start looking at how we can best address these issues then we can start really reducing recidivism.”

Meanwhile, Judge David Certo is running a program to stop the cycle of mentally ill inmates being re-arrested.

“I think our whole system needs to ask questions better about who’s dangerous and who’s not,” Certo said.

Certo’s program makes sure they stay on their medication.

“If they agree to continue with treatment, they can get their charges dismissed after they’ve been through a year with our court,” he explained.

It’s an idea Dezelan thinks could help.

“We believe a lot of the crimes committed by that mentally ill population may not even be committed if they were on their proper medication,” he said. provides commenting to allow for constructive discussion on the stories we cover. In order to comment here, you acknowledge you have read and agreed to our Terms of Service. Commenters who violate these terms, including use of vulgar language or racial slurs, will be banned. Please be respectful of the opinions of others and keep the conversation on topic and civil. If you see an inappropriate comment, please flag it for our moderators to review.

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