EDITORIAL: Save prison for serious offenses

2012-11-26T00:00:00Z EDITORIAL: Save prison for serious offenses nwitimes.com
November 26, 2012 12:00 am  • 

A recent Indiana Department of Correction report shows Lake, Porter and LaPorte counties are to be commended for their community corrections programs. We concur.

Prison is expensive. As of July 1, each adult inmate cost the state $54.28 per day. And the Indiana Department of Correction has more than 28,000 adult offenders behind bars.

Add to that calculation that Indiana's adult male facilities were at 97 percent of capacity in October and that female facilities were at 96 percent, according to the latest Offender Population Statistical Report.

Rather than build more prisons, it's better to use alternative sentencing for low-level, nonviolent offenders. Northwest Indiana counties are doing this well. 

Among the options in Porter County are the use of electronic monitoring and a day reporting program. Grants from the Department of Correction help cover the cost of these programs.

As Porter County weighs ways to ease overcrowding at the Porter County Jail, expanding the use of these existing programs should be among the first options considered.

Porter County should also consider adding a work-release program, in which offenders keep their day jobs but are incarcerated at night to provide better supervision. The work-release idea was popular among candidates for county office in this fall's election, but first the county would need to see what it would take to make the idea work.

Lake County already operates a successful work-release program, having converted a former tuberculosis hospital for this purpose.

Community corrections programs have benefits beyond easing jail crowding. Alternative sentencing also helps offenders keep their jobs so they can continue to earn money for their family.

Larry Landis, executive director of the Indiana Public Defender Council, said putting low-level offenders in prison could also turn them into hardened criminals. 

Community corrections programs ease prison crowding, helps families and reduces government spending. Save prison for the offenders who really need it.

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