> SOUTHERN INDIANA —
A bill passed by the Indiana legislature designed to divert low-level offenders out of state prisons would increase the strain on county corrections systems if signed by Gov. Mike Pence, local officials say.
House Bill 1006 calls for changing the number of felony classifications in the state from four to six and changes the penalties for a variety of crimes, from harsher penalties for certain felony offenses to reduced penalties for drug-related crimes like marijuana possession.
The bill contains $6.4 million to help local communities absorb the extra costs associated with the new sentencing laws, but falls well short of the $30 million requested by the bill’s supporters for implementation. The bill becoming law would likely mean a reduction in state prison populations and an increase in prisoners and probationers at the county level, critics of the bill say.
“The state seems to want to solve their problems and push it back on the locals. That’s always been my experience with state government,” said Clark County Sheriff Danny Rodden. “It’s just kind of the way they deal with things. It’ll cost us more money and adversely affect our budget.”
And Clark County’s budget is already in poor shape. The county jail’s payroll line item was slashed to comply with the Indiana Department of Local Government Finance’s budget order, and the sheriff’s department is operating at a $2.7 million deficit. The county hopes to recoup some of that through the sale of items the sheriff’s department has acquired through a federal equipment haul-away program and by identifying money in abandoned funds, but Rodden’s not optimistic that the cash found will be enough. He estimates the chances of a lawsuit to mandate payment of the bills at about 60-40.
“The dominos could fall in place to help us get through, but it’s going to be awful tough,” Rodden said.