Criminal court judges in Indiana have now begun instituting the most comprehensive overhaul to the state’s criminal code in more than 30 years.
House Enrolled Act 1006, passed by the Indiana Legislature during the 2013 session, became effective July 1. The General Assembly reworked the state’s criminal code with the goal of making sentences proportional to the crime and reserving prison space for violent offenders. It also placed new emphasis on providing community-based treatment for non-violent offenders who commit drug and property crimes.
The switch will not be clean. Judges will have to alternate between the old and new criminal codes since some defendants appearing before them in the days ahead committed their offenses prior in July 1. Grant Circuit Court Judge Mark Spitzer expects by the end of the year, sitting judges will be comfortable with the new law but, he acknowledged, getting comfortable will take time.
“Certainly the transition period is going to be interesting,” Spitzer said.
The Indiana Judicial Center has been offering training sessions to judges since November to review the new criminal code. Spitzer is among the judges who have conducted the sessions, and he anticipates most of the trial judges in the state will have participated in the seminars by the end of the month.
In addition, judges at the seminars are being given a quick reference guide to the new code which they can keep in the court to answer any questions.
The most uncertainty associated with the new code, Spitzer said, is the requirement that low-level offenders be kept in their home counties and offered treatment for their addictions. No one knows how the local jail populations will be impacted.
Spitzer said while non-violent offenders can, in theory, be handled in county jails, in practice it will be a challenge for local governments since very little or no additional funding for the inmates will be coming from the state.
Still, Spitzer said, these community-based programs can reduce recidivism which can save all sorts of costs. Overall, he concluded, the changes to the criminal code are good but “change is difficult for everyone and this will be difficult.”