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Wednesday, March 04, 2015

Ind. Gov't. - "Bill targets reducing county jail populations"

Maureen Hayden, CNHI, reports in a long story in the New Albany News & Tribune - some quotes:

INDIANAPOLIS — Sheriffs and local jailers may see more money to help keep numbers in check in their lock-ups, as lawmakers pursue an ambitious plan to clear low-level offenders from state prisons.

The House agreed this week to free up almost $90 million over the next two years for communities that offer treatment programs designed to reduce recidivism. If it survives the session, the measure also will forbid judges from sentencing the lowest level felons — most convicted of drug and theft crimes — to state prisons as of Jan. 1, 2016.

“The money goes directly where we want it. We want to make sure it’s not used simply to build jails,” said House Judiciary Chairman Greg Steuerwald, R-Avon, author of the bill.

The effort has support from groups that represent sheriffs and parole officers, who’ve endorsed the idea of shoring up treatment for those whose crimes are driven by addiction or mental illness. * * *

Indiana already spends about $40 million a year on local community correction programs that include home detention and work-release programs for low level offenders.

But the state’s recidivism rate is high, ranging from 48 to 62 percent over the last decade, so legislators have been looking for something to interrupt that cycle.

Steuerwald said tying state money to treatment is modeled on a Texas initiative. After seeing prison costs spiral due to tougher penalties, especially for drugs, Texas sunk more than $230 million into community programs focused on addiction and mental health treatment. It saw results: Texas closed a prison in 2011, and state prison officials report $3 billion in savings. * * *

Steuerwald’s measure to replicate that success still faces opposition.

Officials with the state Department of Correction aren’t convinced that the new sentencing guidelines will drive down their costs and free up the money that Steuerwald wants to direct into local treatment programs.

In a budget proposed by Gov. Mike Pence, the department asked for $51 million to expand prisons at Miami Correctional Facility near Peru and the Wabash Valley Correctional Facility near Sullivan. Officials anticipate housing more high-security prisoners since lawmakers have also lengthened sentences for the worst offenders.

But the Republican-led House stripped out the department’s request before moving its budget over to the Senate this week.

That decision has the support of Senate leaders who were instrumental in overhauling the criminal sentencing laws.

Senate Appropriations Chairman Luke Kenley, R-Noblesville, has already talked to officials in the Division of Mental Health and Addiction about overseeing grants for local programs designed to reduce recidivism.

Kenley said he’s not sure yet what will happen to the Corrections request for more money to expand prisons.

Meanwhile, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Brent Steele, R-Bedford, is dead set against putting more money into prisons. He’s pressing hard for the money to go communities that will take on more low-level offenders.

“As a state, we don’t like unfunded mandates handed down to us by the federal government,” he said. “And it’s our goal to make sure we don’t do same thing to the locals.”

Posted by Marcia Oddi on March 4, 2015 09:19 AM
Posted to Indiana Government