Greensburg Daily News, Greensburg, IN

News

September 21, 2013

Questions remain on criminal code reform

(Continued)

The new law expands the state’s current four levels of felonies to six and it requires offenders to serve at least 75 percent of their prison terms, instead of the current 50 percent. It also reduces penalties for drug crimes – Indiana has some of the harshest in the nation – and it gives judges much more discretion to let low-level offenders serve their time in community-based correction programs.

But the law doesn’t go into effect until July 2014. The bill’s authors fashioned it that way to give themselves time to figure out how much additional funding is needed to implement the law.

In late March, as the bill was being considered, officials with Department of Correction said the legislation would blow up the prison population. The DOC said several provisions in the bill, including tougher sentences for violent and sex crimes and the reduction in “credit time” that offenders could earn for good behavior and educational courses, would increase the state’s prison population by 70 percent in 20 years.

The DOC’s fiscal analysis caught lawmakers by surprise, since it conflicted with an analysis by the Legislative Services Agency – the non-partisan research arm of General Assembly -- that says the bill would lead to a small increase in prison population before significantly dropping off.

The bill also faced significant opposition from local court and criminal-justice officials, who supported the larger goal of sentencing reform, but feared the new law would just result in cost-shifting from the state to local communities.

Indiana spends about $720 million a year on prisons. But the new law came with no funding for the local jails, community corrections programs and probation departments to absorb the low-level offenders that are supposed to be diverted from the state prisons under the new law. And it came with no additional funding for the critical mental health and substance-abuse treatment programs that are seen by judges, prosecutors, and defense attorneys alike as critical to reducing recidivism. About 40 percent of offenders who come out of the DOC commit another crime within three years.

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