Emerging from the Indiana House of Representatives, the criminal code revision bill includes stronger sentences for certain crimes. Two companion bills that legislators say will provide the necessary funding for treatment programs in the local communities are also moving.
The goal of House Bill 1006, the criminal code rewrite, is to bring proportionality to the sentencing scheme and reduce recidivism. A key part of the state’s new thinking on crime and punishment is to put more lower-level offenders into treatment programs to help with the drug addictions and mental health issues that many of the these inmates have.
Rep. Greg Steuerwald, R-Avon, and Sen. R. Michael Young, R-Indianapolis, both have authored measures in response to concerns among the judiciary, sheriffs association, and probation and community corrections officials that the state will keep more offenders in cities and towns but will not provide the financial support.
The bills drew praise from David Powell, executive director of the Indiana Prosecuting Attorneys Council, which he said set up the mechanisms through which the money will flow to the communities and by which the effectiveness of the programs will be measured.
HB 1006 is the technical corrections bill to reconcile conflicts between the criminal code revision passed last year, HEA 1006-2013, and other bills. The House approved the technical corrections bill on a vote of 90 to 4 and now the Senate Corrections and Criminal Law Committee will begin its review.
Powell described HB 1006 as it is now as “a good tool that will function and improve public safety in Indiana.”
However, Larry Landis, executive director of the Indiana Public Defender Council, contends the sentencing changes made in the House will increase the prison population and force the state to build a new penitentiary.
During the summer, the Criminal Law and Sentencing Policy Study Committee carefully examined the sentencing structure in HEA 1006-2013. The Indiana Department of Correction was concerned the new criminal code would actually put more offenders behind bars, causing significant overcrowding in state’s prisons.
Steuerwald said the adjustments made in the House to sentencing represent a compromise. The advisory sentences for the crime of dealing narcotics were raised. At the same time, the sentences for these offenses remained suspendable.
In addition, the House increased the credit time for the lowest-level offenders. HB 1006 called for inmates to receive one day of credit for every three days they serve. The modification will allow these offenders to get one day of credit for every day they serve.
“Doing that will have a pretty dramatic effect of lowering the population in the DOC,” Steuerwald said.
Landis disagreed. He said the amendments made in the House were not recommended by the study committee and will only put more people in prison for longer periods of time. The current form of the bill, he said, will increase the number incarcerated to the point where the state will have to spend millions building a new prison or will get slapped with a federal court order to correct the overcrowding.
The advisory sentences for individuals charged with dealing opiates now range from a low of 3 years to a high of 10 years. Also, for the highest level of drug dealing offense, the amount the individual had to be caught with was dropped from more than 28 grams to more than 10 grams.
Young said he is contemplating offering an amendment to HB 1006 that would allow the state to begin tacking. Under this provision, every time a drug dealer is arrested, the amount they are carrying is tacked on to any amounts they were carrying when they were arrested previous times.
Arresting and incarcerating drug dealers does not do anything to reduce demand for the narcotics, Powell said. The demand problem should be addressed by enrolling addicts into special programs to help them overcome their dependency on drugs and to deal with the mental health issues many of them struggle against.
Powell and Landis agreed that programs that provide treatment, monitoring and supervision can reduce recidivism and lower the crime rate.
Steuerwald’s bill, HB 1268, requires treatment programs to use evidence-based practices and establishes a grant structure for the DOC to use when awarding money to local communities. It requires the Department of Correction to consult with the Indiana Judicial Conference and the Division of Mental Health and Addiction before giving out the grants.
In the Senate, Young has introduced Senate Bill 235 that would start a mental health pilot project in Marion County. The measure mirrors Steuerwald’s bill in that it requires the use of best practices for the treatment programs and establishes the criteria for the DOC to award grants.
Also, both pieces of legislation create the mental health and addiction forensic treatment services account to fund the treatment programs. Money in the account would come from appropriations from the Indiana General Assembly, grants and gifts or bequests.
Henry Circuit Judge Mary Willis said the Indiana Judges Association wants to see funding provided for the local programs. With more low-level criminals staying in their communities, the municipalities will need more money to provide for the additional probation officers and community corrections officials who will be needed for supervising the offenders.
To ensure the communities can handle more offenders, Landis is advocating for the treatment programs to be set up and running before the sentences are increased.
Steuerwald, Young and Willis do not want to delay the implementation of HB 1006 from the target date of July 1. The legislators pointed out their bills, if passed, can be immediately implemented and the programs can be started before any individuals are sentenced under the new criminal code.
Willis said tweaks and adjustments can be made as needed once the legislation takes effect.
“This is so big that there’s going to have to be an opportunity to put it into place and see how it operates,” she said.•