Sen. Jim Merritt, R-Indianapolis, announced Wednesday that he has introduced legislation to revise the state’s education credit law for sex offenders. He said eight months ago that he would seek to change the law after a sex offender was released early after earning this type of credit.
Senate Bill 260 is in response to the early release of former Lawrence North High School swim coach Chris Wheat in May 2012, who was in prison for sexually abusing a 14-year-old girl. He was sentenced to eight years in 2010 but released in 2012 for earning good time and educational credits.
This bill would implement code revisions to prevent inmates from what Merritt calls “blatantly gaming the system like this” in the future. The legislation:
• Prohibits sex offenders from receiving educational credit time for earning an associate’s or bachelor’s degree while incarcerated. Sex offenders could only earn educational credits for high school degrees and basic rehabilitation classes, which provide less time breaks than associate’s and bachelor’s degrees;
• Bars all offenders from receiving educational credit time for an associate’s or bachelor’s degree they earned prior to incarceration; and
• Requires educational credit time earned by sex and violent offenders to be subtracted from their sentence dates, rather than their earliest possible release dates. Only non-sex and non-violent offenders could subtract education credit time from their earliest possible release dates.
Rep. Sean Eberhart, R-Shelbyville, is authoring the same proposal in the House of Representatives in House Bill 1249.
“Knowing that 97 percent of offenders will return to one of Indiana’s 92 counties at some point, I support education programs for inmates because they prepare them for ex-offender status through rehabilitation,” Merritt said in a news release. “That being said, we cannot allow offenders, especially sex and violent offenders, to manipulate our system and avoid paying the due penalty for their crimes, as determined by a court of law.”
SB 260 has been assigned to the Senate Committee on Corrections and Criminal Law; HB 1249 is expected to be heard by the House Committee on Courts and Criminal Code.