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April 23, 2013

HAYDEN: Money may hold up criminal code reform

INDIANAPOLIS —

If the criminal code reform bill passes through the Indiana General Assembly, it’ll likely be missing a critical element: The money to make it work.  

One of the bill’s original goals was to divert low-level, non-violent offenders out of state prisons, where the worst offenders belong, and into community-based programs proven to reduce recidivism. 

But with just days to go before the session’s end, nowhere in the legislation or the $30 billion budget bill are the dollars for local jails and community correction facilities to run the drug rehabilitation programs that criminal justice experts say are needed to make a real dent in crime. 

It’s as if lawmakers have forgotten what started the rewrite of the state’s criminal code three years ago by a commission the legislature appointed: Fears that our addiction to incarceration was fiscally unsustainable. 

So here’s a brief reminder: In the first decade of the 21st century, the number of people living in Indiana grew 6.6 percent. Over that same decade, the number of people living in our prisons went up by 47 percent, driving prison spending up by 37 percent. The biggest increase was in low-level drug and theft offenders, many of whom were rotating through the justice system. 

Here’s what else we know: As in other states across the nation, a majority of our current prison inmates — maybe more than 75 percent — were sentenced for some drug-related crime. They were selling drugs, stealing to buy drugs, or committing other crimes while on drugs or to acquire drugs. 

Republican state Sen. Randy Head of Logansport has been tough on the criminal code reform bill, concerned it was a little too soft on some crimes. The former deputy prosecutor succeeded in amending it to beef back up some penalties, which is one reason why the bill went into last-ditch negotiations between its House and Senate authors. 

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