At the Oct. 19 meeting of the Indiana Criminal Code Evaluation Commission, lawmakers heard proposals that aim to reduce the number of inmates housed in the Indiana Department of Correction. Presented for review were plans to assign more offenders to community rehabilitative programs and to restructure felony classes.
Deborah Daniels, a partner with Krieg DeVault, presented recommendations from the commission’s work group. She said that Indiana’s current system of classifying felonies as A, B, C or D class may lead to sentences that are inappropriately harsh for a given offense. As an example, she said that dealing in less than three grams of cocaine or a narcotic is currently a Class B felony, but that anything more than three grams – whether that’s four grams or 20 grams – automatically makes the crime a Class A felony.
Daniels said the working group proposes felonies to be assessed in levels, numbered one through six, with a Level 1 felony being assessed only for meth lab explosions causing serious bodily injury to someone other than the manufacturer or causing property damage in excess of $10,000. Under the working group’s Felony Proportionality Proposal, dealing less than three grams of cocaine would be a Level 5 felony; between three and 10 grams would be a Level 4 felony; between 10 and 28 grams would be a Level 3 felony; and an amount higher than 28 grams would merit a Level 2 felony.
The commission discussed sentence enhancements, with Sen. Lindel Hume, D-Princeton, interjecting.
“It concerns me that we have this 1,000 feet from a school enhancement,” he said. He said he knows of instances where police who have arrested someone on a drug offense have offered that offender a reduced sentence if he or she can stage another deal. And Hume said that police sometimes try to ensure that a staged drug deal is within 1,000 feet of a school, resulting in an enhanced sentence, which Hume said is bordering on entrapment.
“If it’s at midnight and you’re within 1,000 feet of a school, there are no children that will be present,” Hume said. Daniels said that a better approach may be to rewrite that enhancement to specify that a child would have to be within 1,000 feet of the drug deal for the enhancement to apply.
Rep. Ralph Foley, R-Martinsville, said, “Through the years, I’ve become less enamored with geography as a criminal element, unless it puts other people or children at risk.”
Daniels also offered revisions to marijuana charges, which would reclassify as misdemeanors several offenses that are currently felonies. Driver’s license suspension would no longer accompany marijuana charges, as she said the working group felt that added punishment “did more harm than good.”
Daniels said the working group would try to have sentencing terms drafted before the committee’s next meeting on Nov. 2.
Foley discussed a potential addition to Indiana Criminal Code Section 11-13 that would create a Probation Improvement Fund at the county level to be administered by the DOC. Using appropriations from the General Assembly, along with donations, gifts and money transferred from other funds or accounts, Foley said the fund would enable county probation departments to develop and use progressive sanctions for dealing with probation violations. It would also be designed to help departments address the needs of offenders with substance abuse and mental health problems.
“There are D felons that need to go to prison, and we should make that determination on the local level,” Foley said. “If the D felon should not go to prison for a commitment of at least one year, then that needs to be handled in the community.”
Sen. Randy Head, R-Logansport, said that based on his past experience as deputy prosecutor he saw the merit in Foley’s proposal.
“You’re absolutely right that sometimes D felons need to go to the department of correction,” he said. “The beauty of this is it gives each county the flexibility it needs to deal with different situations.”
Head said that when an offender is picked up for a probation violation, by the time he’s “processed” he gets credit for time served and ends up feeling like he’s gotten away with the undesirable behavior. Immediate sanctions – like a few days in a jail for a drug offender who tests positive for a controlled substance – would be much more effective in deterring repeat offenses, Head said.
At its Oct. 4 meeting, Randy Koester, deputy commissioner of the DOC, explained that the DOC reduced parole and probation revocations for technical violations, increased the number of counties with community corrections programs and requested prosecuting attorneys and criminal court judges in each county to consider other sanctions besides prison for persons sentenced for nonviolent crimes.
Foley said an important step in preventing recidivism is recognizing that offenders who remain in their communities may be able to benefit from supports and services in a more immediate fashion. While the DOC has several rehabilitative programs for offenders, the time it takes for inmates to be processed, sent to DOC facilities and participate in the programs may be longer than the inmate’s incarceration, which in turn leads to people being unable to complete the program.
Tim Brown, director of legislative services for the DOC, said that the DOC’s outpatient substance abuse treatment is completed in three phases and that offenders must be able to complete Phase 1 (two to four weeks), Phase 2 (an average of three months) and part of Phase 3. Literacy programs take an average of six months to complete, and GED diploma programs take about six to nine months to complete.
“We need at the very minimum eight to nine months to effectively get an offender into any type of programming at the DOC,” Brown said.
Foley’s proposal also called for a Substance Abuse Treatment Fund and a County Offender Fund which would be used at the local level to defray the costs of housing an inmate, to support community corrections programs and to support problem-solving courts and work release programs.
“I have become convinced that we can do a better job of probation. Swift and certain sanctions are meaningful,” Foley said. He explained that the proposed changes are based on what has worked in other parts of the country.
Foley said it’s important to keep in mind that many of the people who are being picked up on probation violations are men with low-level drug offenses who have child support obligations and families that need their help. Keeping them connected to the community rather than in the DOC is better for society in general, he added.•