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Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Ind. Gov't. - Still more on: "In a legislative session seemingly overflowing with important and emotional issues ... the sentencing proposal is emerging as one of the most contentious and significant"

Here is the anticipated story by Niki Kelly of the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette on the politics behind sentencing reform. Some quotes:

INDIANAPOLIS – Whether Republican or Democrat, no state lawmaker wants to be accused in a campaign flier as being soft on crime.

This political fear is perhaps the biggest obstacle to a sentencing plan being pushed by Gov. Mitch Daniels to save the state money on prison beds. * * *

The bill [SB 561] is scheduled for a full vote in the Senate today. It then will move to the House for consideration.

The biggest organized opposition to the bill has come from Indiana prosecutors who have fought a reduction of drug sentences. They have been successful in retaining the ability to increase sentences when crimes are committed within 1,000 feet of schools and other facilities.

Steve Johnson, executive director of the Indiana Prosecuting Attorneys Council, said the prime concern for prosecutors is making sure that the most hardened criminals serve more time in prison.

That is why legislators added an amendment to the overhaul legislation that would make the worst felons serve at least 85 percent of their sentence – commonly known as truth in sentencing – instead of the current system where most prisoners serve half of each sentence.

Johnson said that change added balance to the bill so lawmakers can feel they are being tough on some criminals even while reducing others’ sentences.

But Steele said that the truth-in-sentencing amendment, “may blow the fiscal upside of the bill completely out of the water.”

He noted the whole point was to avoid building more prisons – not extend sentences.

Rep. Jeff Espich, R-Uniondale, said he has not accounted for the sentencing bill in his version of the state budget – not in savings or possible increased spending on longtime felons.

“Legislators have gotten nervous and they are trying to modify the bill so it’s a trade-off,” he said.

“You have to be really careful it doesn’t end up costing more. We obviously can’t afford that.”

Posted by Marcia Oddi on February 22, 2011 12:39 PM
Posted to Indiana Government