Greensburg Daily News, Greensburg, IN

News

April 30, 2014

New sentencing laws prompt local worries around state

INDIANAPOLIS -- After 40 years in law enforcement, Franklin County Sheriff Ken Murphy knows what doesn’t work when it comes to reducing crime: Locking up non-violent offenders whose petty crimes are driven by addiction.

In his jail in rural southeastern Indiana, Murphy sees the same people showing up, collecting a string of offenses -- from shoplifting to probation violation – tied to drugs and alcohol. In Murphy’s estimation, 95 percent of the jail’s inmates are there because of chronic problems with substance abuse.

So when the Indiana General Assembly passed a sweeping sentencing reform bill aimed at diverting those low-level offenders out of state prisons and into community-based programs, Murphy endorsed the concept.

But as questions continue over who will pay for the new law, Murphy opposes its implementation. He fears it could result in cost-shifting from state to local government, and that without adequate resources, low-level offenders will end up back where they started -- in prison.

“I know we don’t have what we need in Franklin County to make this work,” Murphy said.

BIG CHANGES

Indiana’s new sentencing laws, contained in House Enrolled Act 1006, are set to bring dramatic changes to the way punishment is doled out for crime.

For the worst offenders, guilty of violent and sex crimes, it increases prison sentences and reduces the early-release credits earned for good behavior.

But it also reduces the penalties for non-violent, low-level crimes. It does away with mandatory prison terms for some repeat offenders and it gives judges more discretion to put people on probation, order them into treatment, or send them into existing community-based correction programs. It forces another major change: When the new laws go into effect July 1, offenders sentenced to 90 days or less of incarceration will be banned from the state prisons. On July 1, 2015, that jumps to a sentence of one year or less.

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