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Sunday, February 24, 2013

Ind. Law - Criminal code rewrite up for final passage in 1st house tomorrow

The currently 434-page (not counting committee reports) version of HB 1006 has passed 2nd reading in the House and is eligible for final House passage tomorrow, Feb. 23rd.

Maureen Hayden of CNHI reports this weekend in a story headed "Criminal code rewrite unfunded locally." Some quotes from the story:

The Indiana House is moving forward on legislation that rewrites the state criminal code to make punishment better fit the crime, but a key ingredient is still missing: Money to implement it on the local level.

House Bill 1006 is designed to reserve state prisons for the worst offenders while sending more low-level offenders into county jails, community-based corrections and probation rolls.

The goal is to get those low-level offenders – many of whom are drug abusers – into programs that offer treatment and intensive supervision that reduce the odds they’ll commit another crime.

“We’re adding a ‘smart on crime’ element to our already ‘tough on crime’ elements we have in the code,” said state Rep. Matt Pierce, a Bloomington Democrat and co-sponsor of the bill.

But the bill passed by the House Ways and Means Committee on Monday, on 20-0 vote, doesn’t include a funding mechanism for much of the extra costs that local communities would have to absorb.

A proposed $1.9 million “probation improvement fund” in the original bill has been removed from the legislation. There’s no money in the bill to expand the kind of community-based substance treatment programs that the bill’s supporters say is critical. And no extra dollars to help counties that have no community corrections program – an alternative to jail – create or staff one.

The legislation would bring sweeping changes to Indiana’s criminal code. Among other things, it reduces Indiana’s tough drug penalties. No longer would someone caught with cocaine near a school face a tougher sentence than a rapist. And no longer would someone caught with marijuana automatically lose their driver’s license or face a felony charge if found with more than one ounce of pot.

It would also divert thousands of low-level offenders, most charged with drug and theft crimes, out of the state prisons and back into local communities for treatment, supervision or incarceration.

Both the Indiana Prosecuting Attorneys Council and the Indiana Public Defender Council were involved in crafting the bill and both support its goal of making penalties more proportional to the crime.

But both say that more funding for local treatment programs designed to reduce recidivism is critical. * * *

The rewrite of the criminal code contained in House Bill 1006 was spurred by a failed attempt at sentencing reform in 2010. That earlier effort came after a study showed that Indiana’s prison count had grown by 41 percent between 2000 and 2009 — an increase three times that of neighboring states.

The study also found that the increase had been caused not by violent criminals but by drug addicts and by low-level, nonviolent criminals.

An earlier, Feb. 21st editorial in the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette is headed "The 75 percent solution." Some quotes:
Though the bill makes numerous changes to the state’s criminal code, one Hoosiers will best understand addresses the misleading sentences judges hand to convicted criminals. As countless victims and others who follow the criminal justice process have learned, inmates – unless they grossly misbehave in prison – are generally released after serving half of their time. So a man convicted of child molesting, for example, may receive a sentence of eight years but be released in four.

The bill, advanced to the full House this week by the Ways and Means Committee, would require an inmate to serve at least 75 percent of the sentence – for example, six years of an eight-year term.

Corrections officials have generally supported the policy of giving an inmate two days credit for every “good” day served as a way to help keep order in prisons. An inmate, the reasoning goes, has a major incentive not to commit crimes or engage in unruly behavior behind bars if following the rules gets him out sooner. With this proposal, lawmakers appear to have preserved a still-significant incentive for good behavior while moving closer to making prisoners actually serve the sentence they received.

Standing alone, the provision would have some problems because it is more appropriate for career criminals and those convicted of major crimes. And after all, the intent is to address the state’s rising prison population at a time when other states are reducing the number of prisoners. Fortunately, the truth-in-sentencing language is part of a much broader bill that would beef up probation and other county-level programs to handle more minor offenders in their home counties and keep them out of prison, widely considered a training ground where minor offenders learn to become career criminals.

The proposal also changes a variety of sentences to offer more appropriate proportionality, in which the sentence fits the crime. Judges will still have the authority to sentence convicts to a probationary period after they are released, during which courts can monitor their behavior as they return to society.

Proponents believe the changes will at least slow the number of convicted criminals going to prison. If no changes were made, they say, Indiana would have to build a new prison in just six years. If the law is adopted, it would be a dozen years.

The bill as now written is effective July 1, 2014.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on February 24, 2013 12:33 PM
Posted to Indiana Law