By Rep. Greg Steuerwald
Rewriting Indiana’s criminal code is an issue that my colleagues and I have spent years analyzing. The code has been enhanced in the past, but there has not been a significant overhaul since 1977. I believe that the time has come to change that and provide Hoosiers with an appropriate, updated criminal code, which is the focus of House Bill 1006.
In 2009, the Criminal Code Evaluation Commission was created and charged with the task of “evaluating the criminal laws of Indiana.” I was a member of this commission, which consisted of elected officials and a number of experts in the criminal justice field. From March 2011 to July 2012, the CCEC met over 43 times to discuss the merits of the criminal code and possible revisions.
The guiding principles that the commission strived to achieve in rewriting Indiana’s criminal code included the following: consistency, proportionality, like-sentences for like-crimes, new criminal penalties and sentencing schemes designed to keep dangerous offenders in prison, but avoid using scarce prison space for non-violent offenders.
Before I was a lawyer, I served two years as a certified Probation Officer with the Indiana Department of Correction. During my time in that position, and in my current position, I witnessed the need to restructure our current system. One of the biggest issues facing our judicial system is the correct sentencing policies, which is causing violent offenders to be released early.
With 28,378 inmates housed in the Indiana Department of Correction, an estimated 15,000 are being held solely on the lowest felonies. The cost per day to house an inmate is $56.88. The proposed criminal code revisions, as recommended by the commission, will create a way for the state to cut prison costs while providing a sentence grid that applies a more specific sentence to criminal offenses.
There are four classes of felonies in our current criminal code (Classes A-D). The changes that the CCEC recommended would expand the four classes to six by dividing Class A and Class B into two parts. Murder will be its own separate classification. As proposed, all criminal defendants sentenced to Department of Correction will serve 75 percent of their sentence as opposed to 50 percent served under the current criminal code. The recommendations from the commission to the General Assembly will become effective July of 2014.
HB 1006 was heard in the Courts and Criminal Code Committee on Jan. 16. The new criminal code has bipartisan support and was also supported by Ralph Foley, former chair of Courts and Criminal Code, the Indiana Prosecuting Attorneys Council, Indiana Public Defender Council and the Indiana Sheriffs’ Association. HB 1006 passed out of committee unanimously and will be sent to the Ways and Means Committee on its next step in the legislative process.
As we move forward this session, it is imperative that the issue of rewriting Indiana’s criminal code remains a priority. These changes will make Indiana’s laws work for Hoosiers, creating a safer and more responsible state.•
Rep. Greg Steuerwald, R-Danville, has been a member of the Indiana House of Representatives since 2007. He is an attorney with Steuerwald Hannon Zielinski & Witham. The opinions expressed are those of the author.