Bill calling for transparency on sheriffs’ commissary spending also widens discretion

(WISH photo)

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — The House sponsor of a Senate bill aimed at increasing transparency on how Indiana sheriffs spend money made off inmates admits a floor amendment might actually expand sheriffs’ spending powers.

“That’s correct,” Rep. Bob Morris, R – Fort Wayne, told I-Team 8.

The floor amendment, which cleared the House Monday with no discussion, expands how Indiana sheriffs can spend commissary proceeds to include “professional services.”

The amendment does not define “professional services.”

Indiana law already gives sheriffs wide discretion on how they can spend commissary proceeds, which are monies made off inmates through the sale of snack foods, clothing or pre-paid phone cards.

Senate Bill 19, introduced by Sen. Liz Brown, R – Fort Wayne, was designed to increase transparency and reporting requirements for how sheriffs spend those monies.

Rep. Morris told I-Team 8 Monday that the bill does increase transparency by requiring that the sheriffs departments report an itemized list to their county fiscal bodies twice a year.

A recent I-Team 8 investigation found that – in the past three years – nine central Indiana jails have made more than $16 million off inmates. The investigation also uncovered that in many cases, the sheriffs departments are using those proceeds to purchase items that don’t directly benefit the inmate or the jails.

That’s because under Indiana law — they don’t have to.

I-Team 8’s investigation also found that while surrounding states like Kentucky and Illinois require that commissary profits go towards the benefit of the inmate, Indiana law allows that the monies to be used “for any purpose that benefits the sheriff’s department,” so long as it’s agreed upon by the county fiscal body.

Senate Bill 19 does not require any oversight over how those dollars are spent, but Rep. Morris contends, it will increase transparency.

“One nice thing about this bill is that the commissary fund will be itemized – it will be reported semi-annually,” Morris said. “So Senate Bill 19 is a more transparent bill for commissary funds for the sheriffs.”

When asked directly by I-Team 8 : “It calls for more transparency but not more oversight?”

Rep. Morris replied: “Correct. Senate Bill 19 will be more transparent and they’ll have to report it semi-annually.”

The bill now moves onto third reading in the House before it will be sent back over to the Senate.

Never miss another Facebook post from WISH-TV