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Tuesday, June 03, 2014

Ind. Gov't. - "More flexibility for judges, but reforms could push greater costs on counties"

Chelsea Schneider, Evansville Courier & Press, had a long story yesterday, here published at CorrectionsOne.com. Some quotes:

INDIANAPOLIS — Key pieces of the first overhaul of the state’s criminal code in 35 years will take effect in July, and two Southwestern Indiana sheriffs say the changes may place a strain on their operations.

The Indiana General Assembly approved the reforms the byproduct of years of work this year and in 2013.

The ultimate goal is for violent offenders to serve in state prisons for longer periods of time, while offenders convicted of less serious felonies will serve their sentences in county jails or local corrections programs.

The ultimate question is how the reforms will play out in reality.

What Vanderburgh County Sheriff Dave Wedding knows for sure is that more low level offenders, such as people convicted for simple thefts or possession of marijuana, will remain in the county. After July 1, Wedding said the new law requires the county to keep those offenders locally after sentencing instead of transferring them to the Indiana Department of Corrections.

“We certainly like the fact that violent offenders or hardened offenders will serve more time at (the Department of Corrections,)” Wedding said. “Now conversely, for them to mandate for us to house more people here without adequately funding us that would create more burden.” * * *

A thought behind the reforms is the Department of Corrections will realize savings by serving fewer inmates and those savings could be shifted to the counties. If costs are reduced, state lawmakers approved the ability to transfer up to $11 million in grants to community corrections agencies and probation programs. State Rep. Greg Steuerwald, a lead crafter of the reforms, said the $11 million is a good faith provision to show any savings by the state will be passed on to locals.

The way the law is written offenders convicted of the lowest level of felony will stay in county programs if their sentence is less than 90 days. An estimated 500 to 600 people statewide met the criteria last year. Beginning July 2015, offenders with sentences less than a year would stay locally. Currently counties receive $35 per day for felony offenders they house locally, and that funding would be maintained in the new law, Steuerwald said.

Steuerwald said the reforms pair with extensive data gathering to understand the extent offenders are being shifted from state jails to county programs, and if the state is realizing any cost savings.

“There is no doubt that this is going to be a continuing evaluation,” Steuerwald said.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on June 3, 2014 11:34 AM
Posted to Indiana Government