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Friday, March 07, 2008

Ind. Gov't. - Bill to clarify circumstances for awarding education credits by DOC goes to Governor

Updating this ILB entry from Feb. 12th, Lesley Stedman Weidenbener of the Louisville Courier Journal reports today in a story that begins:

A bill championed by a Southern Indiana family that would clarify how education credits can be used to reduce an inmate's prison sentence is now one step from becoming law.

House Bill 1271, which also lengthens sentences for violent sexual predators, won final legislative approval yesterday when the House passed it 94-1. That sends it to Gov. Mitch Daniels to consider whether to sign it, veto it, or allow it to become law without his signature.

Daniels said he had not read the bill and will review it when it reaches his office.

Kathy Gatz of Jeffersonville, whose family publicly questioned whether inmates should get dual credits for the essentially equivalent achievements of earning a GED and a high school diploma, praised the bill's passage.

"We're pleasantly surprised with how quickly it moved through both the House and Senate," Gatz said.

The bill's author, Rep. Steve Stemler, D-Jeffersonville, said he also was pleased.

"I am optimistic that the governor will take expedient action in passing this legislation into law," he said.

Stemler introduced HB 1271 after prison officials erred in determining a release date for Paige Grable. She was sentenced to 2½ years for a 2006 drunken-driving crash that killed Kathy Gatz's son.

Grable earned both her diploma and a GED while in prison and initially received early release credit for both, despite a Department of Correction policy banning it.

State officials corrected the mistake after the Gatz family raised the issue, and Grable's release was delayed until last month.

The family also testified in favor of the bill, which expressly prohibits inmates from receiving credits for both accomplishments.

The bill was nearly tripped up in the House when Republicans offered an amendment that would have required all prison inmates to serve at least 85 percent of their sentences.

Currently prisoners receive one day of early release credit for each day of good behavior. That means the vast majority of inmates serve no more than half of their sentences. Education credits can further shorten those sentences.

The 85 percent provision -- which passed the House easily with bipartisan support -- would have cost the state hundreds of millions of dollars annually for operations and new prisons. House and Senate fiscal leaders said that was too much.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on March 7, 2008 10:12 AM
Posted to Indiana Government