Daniels makes her mark on state's criminal sentencing laws

2013-01-21T17:30:00Z 2013-01-22T08:42:04Z Daniels makes her mark on state's criminal sentencing lawsBy Dan Carden dan.carden@nwi.com, (317) 637-9078 nwitimes.com
January 21, 2013 5:30 pm  • 

INDIANAPOLIS | Former Gov. Mitch Daniels may have been the loudest voice calling for the type of criminal sentencing reform legislation that was approved by a state House committee last week, but it was his sister, Deborah Daniels, a former U.S. attorney and U.S. assistant attorney general, who led the effort to make it happen.

For the past five years, Deborah Daniels headed a seven-attorney work group within the state's Criminal Code Evaluation Commission, which the General Assembly established in 2009 after an independent study by the Pew Center on the States found Indiana had one of the fastest-growing — and costliest — prison populations in the nation.

The 17-member bipartisan commission was tasked with reviewing Indiana's criminal laws and recommending changes if the commission determined reform was needed.

Daniels, now a partner at the Indianapolis law firm of Krieg DeVault, said she took up that charge in the broadest possible way, working with representatives of the Indiana Judicial Center, Indiana Prosecuting Attorneys Council, Indiana Public Defender Council and other Hoosier lawyers during more than 1,000 hours to compile a 365-page analysis of Indiana's criminal law, which is Title 35 of the Indiana Code.

"We literally walked through Title 35 from beginning to end," Daniels said.

She said the group's proposed changes to Indiana's criminal law were based on the need to reserve prison for the most serious offenders, ensure proportional penalties for different crimes, like sentences for like crimes and to increase certainty regarding the length of prison sentences. 

"There had been a lot of information over the years about how difficult it is for victims of crimes to know with any great certainty, what does this sentence mean?," Daniels said.

The work group also sought to streamline the criminal code, which has not been completely updated since 1977, after discovering lawmakers had created new crimes and harsh penalties in response to public outrage over specific incidents that were out of proportion to existing crimes and prison terms, she said.

"The most important thing really was the proportionality review," Daniels said. "There had been a lot of additions, some of which overlapped."

House Bill 1006, co-sponsored by state Rep. Linda Lawson, D-Hammond, is a complete reworking of Indiana's criminal code that follows the recommendations of Daniels' commission work group.

It expands the state's current four levels of felonies to six, requires convicts serve at least 75 percent of their prison terms and permits low-level offenders to serve their time in county jails or under intensive supervision in a community corrections program.

The House committee on courts and the criminal code unanimously approved the legislation Wednesday. It now goes to the House Ways and Means Committee for a review of its yet-to-be-determined cost. 

Daniels' decision to bring in prosecutors and public defenders to help shape the commission's product paid off during last week's committee hearing as natural enemies found themselves grudging partners in the sentencing reform effort.

David Powell, of the prosecutors council, and Larry Landis, of the public defender council, each said there were still pieces of the proposal they'd like to see changed. But both agreed the legislation is worthy of advancing.

That was a big difference from 2011 when Gov. Daniels' initial sentencing reform proposal, intended to save Indiana money by reducing prison costs, got hijacked by prosecutors in a legislative committee and rewritten in a way that would have locked up even more Hoosiers and sent prison costs through the roof.

The Indiana Department of Correction had 28,247 felons locked up in November, the most recent month for which statistics are available. That's just 4 percent below full capacity.

Since 2000, the state's prison population has increased approximately 40 percent, despite an overall drop in crime. A total of 14,054 Hoosiers were sent to prison last year.

Relative to their populations, Lake and Porter counties send comparatively few people to prison. In 2012, Lake County sent 429 felons to the Department of Correction; Porter County just 45.

Marion County (Indianapolis) led the state, sending 3,390 people to prison last year. Other top counties included Allen (Fort Wayne) 951; Madison (Anderson) 579; Hamilton (Fishers, Carmel) 533; Vanderburgh (Evansville) 438; and St. Joseph (South Bend) 424.

Indiana spent an average of $720 million a year on prisons during the 2012 and 2013 budget years.

That's more than half of the state's annual public safety budget and about 3 percent of total state spending.

Copyright 2014 nwitimes.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Follow The Times

Featured Businesses

Poll

Loading…

Is a town marshal needed in Winfield?

View Results