Criminal code funding bill passes House committee

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The Indiana House Judiciary Committee has unanimously passed a funding bill that would provide the resources that many agree are necessary to reduce the number of nonviolent offenders who repeatedly reenter the criminal justice system.

Authored by Avon Republican Greg Steuerwald, House Bill 1006 creates the Justice Reinvestment Community Grants Program, which would allocate $50 million toward community corrections programs. The Indiana Judicial Center will establish and administer the grant program that will assist counties with the development of community corrections and with alternatives to incarceration.

The funding bill dovetails with the state’s new criminal code which took effect July 1, 2014. The criminal code seeks to reduce recidivism and the inmate population at the state prisons by keeping low-level offenders in their local communities and offering them treatment programs and alternative sentencing.

Supporters of 1006 said without the funding to alternative programs, crime will increase in the state. However, some supporters injected some caution, raising concerns if the money is not specifically earmarked for treatment, the money could be used to build new county jails.

In response to those concerns, the committee changed the language in the bill to mandate that 75 percent of the funds go to treatment.

Larry Landis, executive director of the Indiana Public Defender Council, said if the state puts money into mental health and drug treatment programs, then “we all win.” These programs can change behavior that will help to reduce recidivism and crime.

Marion County public defender Molly Wright agreed, noting locking up someone with a mental illness or drug addiction does not work. Putting money into drug treatment and mental health programs prevents people from coming back into the criminal justice system, she said.

Hendricks Superior Judge Robert Freese indicated counties are just waiting on the money. The communities can implement the programs but funding is crucial.

Jane Seigel, executive director of the IJC, and Linda Brady, president of the Probation Officers Professional Association of Indiana, both advocated for using some of the money to hire more probation officers to handle the swelling caseloads. Caseloads are far exceeding the optimal amount, which contributes to increased recidivism, they said.
Indiana Prosecuting Attorneys Council Executive Director David Powell asked the funds be specifically directed into mental health and drug addiction treatment programs. Otherwise, he said, the money could go toward building as “bigger corral” as counties say they need more probation officers and jail beds.

Also, Beth Lock, Allen County director of government affairs, told the committee that keeping all low-level offenders in their home communities will add to the jail crowding problems many counties are already facing.

In Allen County, the offenders who do not comply with the terms of their probation are sent to the Indiana Department of Correction. However, HB 1006 would keep them in Allen County which could force the community to shell out $4 million to $5 million to add another 75 beds to the local jail and another 75 beds to the work release center.  

The House committee passed HB 1006 on a 10-0 vote. It now heads to the House Ways and Means Committee. Steuerwald said he is optimistic the bill will pass the House and Senate with bipartisan support.  

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