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Thursday, February 27, 2014

Ind. Law - HB 1006 on its way to passage

Maureen Hayden reports today for CNHI:

INDIANAPOLIS — Judges who’ve been clamoring for more control over prison sentences may be exercising some of that discretion this summer.

A long-in-the-making rewrite of Indiana’s felony criminal code removes some mandatory sentences added during decades of tough-on-crime policies, which led to higher prison costs.

The updates, passed last year, take effect July 1 and give judges more leeway by removing the binding, “non-suspendable” sentences for many low-level drug and property crimes.

“If somebody deserves to go to prison for 80 years for the crime they’ve committed, we’ll still be sending them there,” said Superior Court Judge Robert Freese, of Hendricks County. “But sending people to prison when it’s not appropriate isn’t justice.”

Like many of his colleagues, Freese says minimum sentences handcuff judges from doling out appropriate punishment — such as assignments to community-based treatment programs. * * *

The criminal code reform passed last year repealed many of mandatory minimum sentences.

As legislators revised the bill this year, adding new sentencing guidelines, they kept mandatory sentences for high-level crimes such as murder, rape and drug dealing. But they left intact language that eliminated mandatory terms for lower-level crimes including theft and drug offenses.

John M. Marnocha, a St. Joseph County judge who spent three years on the commission that helped rewrite the criminal code, said increasing judges’ discretion can reduce recidivism and bring down the prison population.

Judges may dole out alternative sentences to low-risk defendants who’d benefit, for example, from drug or alcohol treatment, he said. They could also start using options such as house arrest or work release.

But, Marnocha cautions, multiple factors are at play. Prosecutors and judges may risk being seen as “soft on crime” if they opt for prison alternatives. All of Indiana’s county prosecutors and most state judges are elected.

“It’s almost too early to tell what’s ultimately going to happen,” Marnocha said. “It’s still a work a progress.”

Larry Landis, head of the Indiana Public Defender Council, worries the increased judicial discretion will be offset by other changes made to the criminal code this year. Under pressure from prosecutors, legislators increased advisory sentences for some crimes, mandated minimum sentences for some habitual offenders and jacked up penalties for gun-related crimes.

“You can’t call this criminal code ‘reform’ anymore,” Landis said.

HB 1006 was voted out of Senate Appropriations this morning, to which it had been recommitted. Hayden's story, which was written before that happened, continues:
The impact all of the changes will have on the prison population remains in dispute. Last summer the state Department of Correction predicted an increase in the prison population while the Legislative Services Agency — the research arm of the General Assembly — forecast an eventual drop.

The biggest unresolved issue remains funding. The General Assembly has yet to allocate money for communities to expand local programs that judges would use as part of new sentences.

The Senate Appropriations Committee is expected to take up the issue Thursday. Reps. Greg Steuerwald, R-Avon, and Jud McMillin, R-Brookville, are expected to argue for local funding.

Both may cite a recent study that says the new criminal code, once in effect, will drive down the projected state prison population. They’ll argue that the resulting savings should be passed on to communities for programs that offer sentencing alternatives.

“We’re so close to getting this done,” Steuerwald said. “We know there are too many people in prison who don’t need to be there.”

ILB: I can't right now determine what the Senate Appropriations Committee did this morning to solve the funding issues, other than pass the bill out. Here is their report.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on February 27, 2014 02:03 PM
Posted to Indiana Law