GUEST COMMENTARY: A rewrite of Indiana’s criminal code

2013-03-13T00:00:00Z GUEST COMMENTARY: A rewrite of Indiana’s criminal codeBy Greg Steuerwald and Matt Pierce
March 13, 2013 12:00 am  • 

For the past several years, state legislators from both parties have been working with prosecutors, judges, public defenders and many other experts to reduce recidivism - the number of repeat offenders - in Indiana by overhauling the laws governing our criminal justice system. The end result of that work is HB 1006, which would add a “smart on crime” approach to traditional “tough on crime” policies.

While revising the criminal code is complicated, the policies that have driven the revision process are simple and straight-forward:

• Deal with nonviolent offenders in a smarter way that reduces the number of repeat offenders.

• Add certainty to sentencing so victims understand how long the offender will be incarcerated.

• Make sure all sentences fit the crime.

• Use resources saved through decreasing time served by nonviolent offenders to increase the time served by violent offenders.

Victims of crime would gain greater certainty about the actual time their perpetrators will serve. As proposed, offenders sentenced to prison will serve 75 percent of their sentence as opposed to 50 percent served under the current criminal code.

This is accomplished by reducing credit time granted for good behavior from one day for each day served to one day for every three days served. Credit time for earning degrees and completing other programs is capped at two years, down from the current four years, and loopholes that have allowed some offenders to earn excessive credit time not intended by the Legislature are closed.

Prosecutors have found it difficult to apply the state’s convoluted habitual offender law, which is designed to increase sentences for criminals convicted of multiple felonies. HB 1006 streamlines the law so we can be protected from criminals who have shown they cannot obey the law.

In Indiana’s current criminal justice system, all too often low level, nonviolent criminals are sent to state prisons. The Department of Correction spends time and money to process and house these offenders for only a few months, with little or no time to address the behavior that put them in prison in the first place.

Scientific studies of “evidence-based best practices” used in other states show this revolving door of low-level criminals cycling in and out of prison can be broken. For a fraction of the cost of warehousing these offenders in our state prisons, a new approach of intensive supervision through probation and community corrections programs can shut down the revolving door.

Offenders under intensive supervision would be required to address the root causes of their behavior through several means, including participation in a drug treatment or a mental health program, and holding down a job. Minor violations of their terms of probation would result in swift and certain sanctions followed by a return to the intensive supervision. It would not call for revoking their probation and sending them back to state prison to sit out the remaining months of their sentence.

By using these proven techniques to break the cycle of crime, state resources are freed-up to make us safer from violent criminals. The proposed criminal code revisions will reduce state prison costs, while calibrating sentences to make sure they are proportionate to the severity of the crime.

State Rep. Greg Steuerwald, R-Avon, represents the 40th District. State Rep. Matt Pierce, D-Bloomington, represents the 61st District. The opinions are the writers'.

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

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