GUEST COMMENTARY: Be smart on crime, not just tough

2013-10-23T00:00:00Z 2013-10-23T17:40:11Z GUEST COMMENTARY: Be smart on crime, not just toughBy Kenneth B. Elwood nwitimes.com
October 23, 2013 12:00 am  • 

When Indiana Gov. Mike Pence signed the new criminal code bill (HEA 1006) and the expungement bill (HEA 1482), he said he wanted Indiana "to be the worst place in America to commit a serious crime and the best place, once you've done your time, to get a second chance."

Indiana has been one of the worst places to commit a serious crime since the last revision of the criminal code in 1977. Indiana's prison population has increased from about 6,000 in 1977 to nearly 30,000 in 2012, even though violent crime has decreased. Indiana has clearly demonstrated for the past 30 years it knows how to be tough on crime.

During the same period, Indiana has also been one of the worst places for a second chance, as evidenced by the fact that 39 percent of persons released from the Indiana Department of Correction return within three years, and very little is provided for treatment for re-entry services.

Numerous states have demonstrated recidivism, or repeat offending, can be lowered, especially for low-level nonviolent offenders. Recent studies clearly indicate that housing low-level, nonviolent offenders with more serious offenders increases the recidivism of the low-level offenders. Nevertheless, HEA 1006 continues the policies of mass incarceration and warehousing of offenders. Nothing in HEA 1006 offers hope of reducing recidivism.

Eighty percent of offenders committed to the Indiana Department of Correction have a substance addiction, serious mental illness or both. Ninety-seven percent of them are going to be released and returned to our communities. Nothing in HEA 1006 increases treatment for these persons before, during, or after prison.

If we want to lower recidivism and reduce crime, the Legislature needs to act before HEA 1006 takes effect on July 1, 2014, by creating alternatives to prison for low-level nonviolent offenders, increasing evidence-based treatment programs for those with substance addictions and mental illness, and expanding re-entry services to help offenders find employment, housing, and transportation so they can become law-abiding, taxpayer members of our community.

It is time that the Indiana General Assembly demonstrates that it knows how to be smart on crime, as well as tough on crime.

Kenneth B. Elwood is Porter County's chief public defender. The opinions are the writer's.

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