EDITORIAL: Balance Indiana's scales of justice

2013-01-27T00:00:00Z EDITORIAL: Balance Indiana's scales of justice nwitimes.com
January 27, 2013 12:00 am  • 

Indiana needs sentencing reform to restore balance to the criminal justice system. House Bill 1006 offers the right road map for change.

HB 1006, co-sponsored by state Rep. Linda Lawson, D-Hammond, follows the recommendations of the 17-member bipartisan Criminal Code Evaluation Commission, which spent five years studying Indiana's criminal code and suggesting reforms.

If approved, this would be the first major overhaul of Indiana's criminal code since 1977.

Lawson's 422-page bill would expand to six the number of levels of felonies, from the current four. That allows the penalties to more appropriately fit the crime.

Convicts would be required to serve at least 75 percent of their prison terms, and low-level offenders would be allowed to serve time in county jails or under intensive supervision in a community corrections program.

Indiana prison officials have in the past urged for sentencing reform as a way to reduce the prison population. That would reduce state spending, but it would also keep lesser offenders from getting schooled in worse crimes by the hardened criminals in prison.

Under HB 1006, drug addicts and low-level offenders would be steered toward treatment to reduce recidivism. That treatment might cost more than prison in the short term but would be cost-effective in the long run.

With more offenders put in county jails and community corrections programs, the state would need to help counties with that increased financial burden. The details still need to be worked out.

But this reasonable revision of the state's criminal code is necessary. Lawmakers who add new felonies sometimes are more aggressive than they need to be in order to show they are tough on crime. Sentencing reform is periodically necessary to restore perspective.

Easing prison crowding would be a major financial benefit, but bringing fairness and restoring perspective is even more important.

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