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Partnership targets Indiana's corrections system

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To address Indiana’s growing prison population and increasing related costs, the state is partnering with The Pew Center on the States and the Council of State Governments Justice Center for the first comprehensive review of the state’s criminal code and sentencing policies since 1976.


Indiana is participating in the Justice Reinvestment Initiative, officials announced this morning in Gov. Mitch Daniels’ office. The project aims to improve public safety by reducing the number of offenders in Indiana’s prisons, reduce recidivism, and to better manage corrections costs.


The state’s prison population has grown 47 percent in the past 10 years from 19,309 in fiscal year 2000 to 28,389 in fiscal year 2010. In that same period, the Indiana Department of Correction’s appropriations from the general fund increased 76 percent. Despite those increases, Daniels noted the state addressed the population increase without new construction by being more efficient and better management of prison capacities.


Daniels, with the support of Indiana Supreme Court Chief Justice Randall T. Shepard, bipartisan legislative leadership, and Attorney General Greg Zoeller, sought assistance from the Public Safety Performance Project of The Pew Center regarding sentencing and other corrections issues.


The project will analyze Indiana’s crime, arrest, conviction, jail, prison, probation, and parole supervision data. It will also include a system-wide examination of the state’s prison population, drivers of prison growth, and strategies currently used to increase public safety. The CSG Justice Center will interview people from prosecutors, public defenders, and law enforcement officials to victims, their advocates, and service providers, among others. The new 13-member Justice Reinvestment Steering Committee, comprised of various Indiana stakeholders, will review the analysis and make recommendations while working with the CSG Justice Center on policy options.


Adam Gelb, director of the Public Safety Performance Project of The Pew Center, said the project will help Indiana going forward rein in prison spending. He also noted Indiana is not starting from “ground zero” because there are “a lot of essential building blocks here in Indiana.”


Such essentials include drug and other problem-solving courts that look at options other than prison for offenders.


More than 2,000 times a day, Indiana’s trial court judges are deciding sentences for offenders, looking at what would be the “smart” sentence for the offender and the situation, Chief Justice Shepard said. “There are alternatives to prison. Many programs are led by trial judges. … It’s a great opportunity to cooperate with the other two branches.”


However, Chief Justice Shepard told Indiana Lawyer that five times as many felons in Indiana are serving sentences in various ways as part of a “whole constellation” of programs that are not prison.


Indiana’s monetary commitment is $100,000, which is paid for with federal grant monies through the Indiana Criminal Justice Institute. The Pew Center and the CSG Justice Center have also received funding from the U.S. Department of Justice and the Bureau of Justice Assistance to advance the initiative. As a participant, Indiana will be eligible for future funding from the BJA.


Daniels said Pew has shown it ability to work fast in other states and officials here hope to see analysis in the third and fourth quarters because they want to be able to make recommendations in January for the legislature to address in tandem with the budget. The Indiana General Assembly’s 2011 session will set the state’s next biennial budget.


Daniels also said a surprising percentage of prisoners are there for a “very short period of time, suggesting we’re a little out of whack.”


The average sentence for an Indiana prisoner is 18 years and 10 months, according to information provided by the governor’s office. However, this is an increasing number of low-risk offenders being sentenced to prison for short period of time. In 2009, 4,583 offenders were sent to the Department of Correction for a fixed term of less than 90 days; of those, 1,361 were in prison for 30 or fewer days.


As states nationwide have addressed ways to reduce incarceration rates, Indiana’s rate of incarceration continues to climb at a rate much higher than the national average. Using 2000 to 2007 figures, Indiana ranked seventh in the nation for rate of incarceration. In 2009, Indiana was in fourth and likely will be in second behind Alabama once Florida and Pennsylvania’s sentencing reform measures take effect, according to U.S. Department of Justice statistics.


Once the legislature adopts new policies, the CSG Justice Center will help the state translate the policies into practice, keep track of any effects, and keep state officials up to date.



 

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