Region on board with sending fewer low-level felons to prison

2012-11-18T22:00:00Z 2012-11-19T08:09:07Z Region on board with sending fewer low-level felons to prisonBob Kasarda bob.kasarda@nwi.com, (219) 548-4345 nwitimes.com
November 18, 2012 10:00 pm  • 

Porter, Lake and LaPorte counties sent some of the lowest number of D felons to state prisons during the first half of the year, according to a report prepared by the Indiana Department of Correction.

The results are in keeping with a request two years ago from the Indiana Department of Correction that local officials use alternative sentencing options for low level, nonviolent offenders to help ease a crush of inmates at state prisons.

DOC Chief Communications Officer Douglas Garrison said it appears the message had an impact.

"Our population is not going up as predicted," Garrison said.

The DOC's adult male facilities were at 97 percent of their capacity at the start of October, while female facilities were at 96 percent, according to the latest Offender Population Statistical Report.

Porter Circuit Court Judge Mary Harper said Porter County has been consistent in maintaining a low level of D felons going off to prison.

"We have a very vibrant community corrections system in Porter County," she said.

The program involves electronic monitoring and the use of a day reporting program, which identifies and treats the specific needs of individual offenders, Harper said.

The community correction programs are funded in large part through grants from the DOC, which saves money over housing inmates, she said.

Harper said the county could help ease its own overcrowding at the jail by providing more funding for electronic monitoring, GPS and other programming.

Porter County sent 12th lowest number of D felons to state prisons during the first half the year at 22 percent. Lake County was ranked 14th at 26 percent and LaPorte was fifth at 12 percent.

Larry Landis, executive director of the Indiana Public Defender Council, said not only does it save money to keep qualified D felons out of prison, but research shows that low level, nonviolent offenders can become more hardened criminals if over punished.

"It terms of a deterrent, it's kind of worse," he said.

It also makes little sense to go through the effort and time of sending a low-level offender to the DOC when many serve such short sentences, Landis said.

Offenders may not be as pleased as others with the push to keep them out of prison, Landis said. The DOC facilities are more attractive to inmates than county jails because they offer more recreational options and more freedom, he said.

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