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Thursday, March 21, 2013

Ind. Law - "Crime bill hits bump in governor's office: Pence says state should work on reducing crime, not reducing penalties"

John Russell has posted this long story this afternoon on the IndyStar site. Some quotes:

Across Indiana, state prisons now house more than 27,000 inmates, more than double since 1991, and climbing nearly every year.

But a bill designed to stem the rapid growth in the prisoner count and overhaul the state’s criminal code for the first time in more than 30 years is now winding its way through the Indiana General Assembly.

And for the first time, such a move has won widespread support from legislators, prosecutors, public defenders and even the chief justice of the Indiana Supreme Court.

But it has met resistance from one man: Gov. Mike Pence.

On Wednesday, Pence said he was bothered by provisions that would decrease penalties for entry-level drug offenses, such as dealing and possession.

“I think we need to work on reducing crime, not reducing penalties,” Pence said during a press conference.

Pence said the bill would reduce the penalty for dealing less than 10 pounds of marijuana from a felony to a Class A misdemeanor.

Advocates say such measures would make punishment fit the crimes and restore proportionality among various offenses.

But Pence’s comments raise new questions of whether Indiana’s push to reduce the penalties for certain offenses stand a chance of succeeding. The concept was proposed two years ago by Gov. Mitch Daniels, but ran into trouble with prosecutors and state legislators, and was scrapped.

Since then, a new, more comprehensive effort to overhaul the criminal code has built momentum, winning the support of many prosecutors. The new legislation, known as House Bill 1006, would allow some low-level offenders to avoid prison, and serve their punishment in other ways, such as work-release programs, home detention or probation. That would leave Indiana’s prisons for the worst offenders.

Much later in the lengthy story:
“I think it’s a smart-on-crime bill, not a tough-on-crime bill,” said Joel Schumm, clinical professor of law at Indiana University’s McKinney School of Law in Indianapolis. “This is something Indiana needs badly.”

In January, Chief Justice Brent Dickson urged the legislature to approve the bill. He said it would make the justice system more effective, allow for offender reformation and reduce the costs of incarceration. * * *

Marion County Prosecutor Terry Curry said a big difference is that the new bill is a complete revision of the criminal code. The work group looked at each offense, one by one, and asked what penalty made sense for it, in relation to other offenses.

The criminal code was badly in need of revision, he said.

“Over time, due to various amendments, it started to look like a patchwork instead of a cohesive set of statutes,” Curry said. “So fundamentally, yes, I absolutely support the idea of the code revision.”

And he dismissed the idea that the new bill is soft on crime. While some low-level offenders will avoid prison, they will still serve time in alternative settings. And more serious offenders will have to serve 75 percent of their sentence. Under the current system, many offenders get one day knocked off of their sentence for each day served if they abide by prison rules and complete educational and reformative programs.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on March 21, 2013 04:18 PM
Posted to Indiana Law