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Independent analysis finds DOC’s population will grow under new criminal code

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A report released Dec. 10 predicts that Indiana’s new criminal code will increase the number of individuals incarcerated in state prisons to the point where a new facility may have to be built.

Applied Research Services detailed its analysis of the new criminal code contained in HEA 1006 to the members of the Criminal Law and Sentencing Policy Committee. The Atlanta-based company projected that with judges continuing to hand down sentences similar in duration to the ones they hand down now, the prison population will balloon to 35,504 by 2024.

Although the belief is that the Indiana Department of Correction will reach capacity at 30,000 inmates, John Speir of ARS cautioned the committee from interpreting the number as a “construction issue.” The predicted population, he said, does not mean the DOC is facing a crucial mass.

The new criminal code is the first major overhaul of the state’s criminal statute since 1977. It changed felonies from the current four levels to six and revised the penalties to make the punishment proportional to the offense. It also calls for low-level offenders to be kept in the local communities for mental health and addiction treatment rather than being sent to the DOC.

Advocates for the new code say putting nonviolent defendants into programs within their own communities will reduce the number of repeat offenders.

“The goal is to deal with low-level nonviolent offenders in a different manner,” said Rep. Greg Steuerwald, R-Avon. “As a result of this goal, we believe the DOC population should go down.”

Passed during the 2013 legislative session, the criminal code is not scheduled to take effect until July 1, 2014. The Indiana General Assembly purposefully built in the delay to give an interim study committee the opportunity to review the bill and suggest changes.  

As part of the work on HEA 1006, the Legislative Services Agency and the Indiana Department of Correction did their own analysis of the impact on the prison population.

The two entities projected opposition outcomes.

Current law is expected to increase the number of inmates at the DOC from the current 29,500 to just over 31,000 by 2024. The DOC predicted under the new criminal code, the population will exceed the current law projections by 2,000 inmates between 2014 and 2024. The model by the LSA has the population decreasing by 1,200 to 1,600 inmates by 2025.

During the later part of the recession, Indiana’s prison population was actually flat, a trend mirrored by other states, Speir said. However, in 2013, the number of inmates jumped 9 percent.

Speir said he considers that an anomaly and expects Indiana will return to an average growth rate of 1 to 2 percent.

He also made two other key assumptions when developing his predictions.

Speir said he expected judges would not suspend more sentences although HEA 1006 gives them greater discretion to do so. Also, he assumed that even though the new criminal code will have new advisory sentences, judges will likely continue to sentence as they do under the current law then gradually crawl to the new advisories.

Allen Superior Court Judge John Surbeck dispelled the last assumption, explaining sentencing is a process which begins with the advisory sentence. Then the aggravators and mitigators are weighed to arrive at the punishment that is appropriate.

Steuerwald said Surbeck’s testimony made an impression on the committee. The thought, previously, was that judges work toward a number. Surbeck clarified that the point of the process is not to arrive at a prison term but at a sentence that fits the crime.

The committee, chaired by Sen. R. Michael Young, R-Indianapolis, will meet for the last time Dec. 19.

A special committee workgroup of Steuerwald and Reps. Jud McMillion and Matt Pierce along with Sen. Brent Steele, will give its recommendations for tweaks to the code’s sentencing grid based on Speir’s projections. In addition, the recidivism working group, led by Steuerwald, will present its findings.    
 

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  1. Frankly, it is tragic that you are even considering going to an expensive, unaccredited "law school." It is extremely difficult to get a job with a degree from a real school. If you are going to make the investment of time, money, and tears into law school, it should not be to a place that won't actually enable you to practice law when you graduate.

  2. As a lawyer who grew up in Fort Wayne (but went to a real law school), it is not that hard to find a mentor in the legal community without your school's assistance. One does not need to pay tens of thousands of dollars to go to an unaccredited legal diploma mill to get a mentor. Having a mentor means precisely nothing if you cannot get a job upon graduation, and considering that the legal job market is utterly terrible, these students from Indiana Tech are going to be adrift after graduation.

  3. 700,000 to 800,000 Americans are arrested for marijuana possession each year in the US. Do we need a new justice center if we decriminalize marijuana by having the City Council enact a $100 fine for marijuana possession and have the money go towards road repair?

  4. I am sorry to hear this.

  5. I tried a case in Judge Barker's court many years ago and I recall it vividly as a highlight of my career. I don't get in federal court very often but found myself back there again last Summer. We had both aged a bit but I must say she was just as I had remembered her. Authoritative, organized and yes, human ...with a good sense of humor. I also appreciated that even though we were dealing with difficult criminal cases, she treated my clients with dignity and understanding. My clients certainly respected her. Thanks for this nice article. Congratulations to Judge Barker for reaching another milestone in a remarkable career.

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