EDITORIAL: Focus on correction, not punishment

2013-12-23T00:00:00Z EDITORIAL: Focus on correction, not punishment nwitimes.com
December 23, 2013 12:00 am  • 

A panel that looked at sentencing reform this month was advised that if judges and prosecutors seek lengthy prison terms, Indiana's prison population won't drop.

Prosecutors haven't looked kindly upon the sentencing reforms, which put more emphasis on correction than on punishment.

The big question, of course, is how much implementing this reform is going to cost. But not all costs are financial.

"There's really no way of telling how much it's going to save or how much it's going to cost," said state Rep. Linda Lawson, D-Hammond, a member of the criminal code revision committee.

Simply punishing criminals isn't enough. We've known this for decades. That's why it's called the Indiana Department of Correction.

But over time, enhanced penalties are added to assuage crime victims. That's why every few decades, the criminal statues need to be overhauled to restore perspective in sentencing.

"Sooner or later, they're going to get out," Lawson said. What happens then depends on what happens after they've been found guilty.

Leave the worst of the worst in prison, teach others the necessary job skills and life skills, and if they do wrong again, then put them in prison.

"I believe in punishment," Lawson, a former police officer, said. Her children, now adults, likely would agree.

"But you also work with your kids to make sure they don't commit the same crime again," Lawson said. That's the approach needed to deal with nonviolent, first time offenders as well.

Instead of the "lock 'em up" mentality, judges should put low-level offenders into community corrections programs and push people with drug and alcohol problems into treatment programs. Teach these offenders to the right way to behave, the right way to earn a living.

Keeping offenders out of prisons means reducing the need for additional capacity for warehousing offenders. But it also means reducing the likelihood of those offenders committing a crime again.

So much of state policy is based on dollars and cents. That's not the right lens with which to view this issue. The expected long-term financial benefits should be seen as a benefit, not the cause, of doing what's right.

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