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Capstone of criminal code reform put in place during 2015 session

May 6, 2015

The bill establishing the funding and the mechanism to distribute the dollars needed for Indiana’s new criminal code reform had a bumpy ride through the Statehouse. But in the final hours of the 2015 legislative session, lawmakers approved language that ensured the money would be funneled through local programs and projects designed to reduce recidivism and ease overcrowding in Indiana’s prisons.

Steuerwald Steuerwald

House Enrolled Act 1006, authored by Rep. Greg Steuerwald, R-Avon, was the capstone of the state’s effort to rewrite its criminal penalties and sentencing schemes. The overarching goal of the reform is to stop the cycle of repeat convictions by keeping low-level offenders in the county jails where they will have access to treatment and rehabilitation programs.

Some law enforcement personnel and county officials expressed concern the state would dump the offenders in the local communities without giving the counties any additional funds.

With the passage of HEA 1006 and the state budget, $60 million has been set aside for the next two years.

“I’m very satisfied,” Steuerwald said after the session ended. “We have accountability, and I think we’re in good shape.”

His optimism was shared by Kevin Moore, director of Indiana Family and Social Services Administration’s Division of Mental Health and Addiction. Moore’s agency will receive $10 million in the first year of the state’s budget and $20 million in the second year.

Moore Moore

The funding level is a good start, Moore said, explaining the dollars will be used to connect offenders with treatment and enable the division to build a network of mental health and addiction services.

“The timing is right,” Moore said of the criminal reform. “A lot of people have been advocating for treatment for low-end offenders for a long time.”

Infrastructure

House Enrolled Act 1006 divides the funding between the Indiana Department of Correction’s Community Corrections program and the FSSA Division of Mental Health and Addiction.

These two agencies, along with the Justice Reinvestment Advisory Council, will administer the money through a grant program and oversee the local organizations receiving the support. Created by HEA 1006, the council will comprise representatives from the Indiana Judicial Center, Indiana Public Defender Council, Indiana Prosecuting Attorneys Council, Indiana Sheriffs’ Association, and Probation Officers Professional Association of Indiana, among others.

Community and local government agencies will submit an application and a plan for how the funds will be used. The state agencies and the advisory council will review the applications and award the grants. These three groups are also charged with ensuring the local programs adhere to evidence-based practices, services are not being duplicated and the results show offenders are not committing new crimes.

“If the program or if what they applied the grant for works, then recidivism will go down and the funding will continue,” Steuerwald said. “If the recidivism goes up, they shouldn’t be funded anyway.”

To help determine which programs are successful, the advisory council must keep account of the number of participants in each local program, the number who complete or fail to finish the program, the number of people about to get a job and the recidivism rate of the participants.

Details of the application and review process are still being worked out, but Jane Segal, executive director of the Indiana Judicial Center, said the main thing the principal players will be looking for is collaboration. The advisory council, Community Corrections and DMHA will want to see the different agencies at the local level working together so efforts to rehabilitate offenders are not duplicated and the outcomes are good.

The Division of Mental Health and Addiction is anticipating its part of the grant program would support a voucher system for treatment. Vouchers would be given to a provider or local government agency to offer assessments and counseling to specific individuals. In some rural counties where treatment specialists are sparse, the money might be used for teletherapy and telecounseling.

Steuerwald, described as the architect of Indiana’s criminal code reform, originally asked for $100 million over the two-year cycle. The funding portion of the bill was removed and put into the budget bill. As the budget progressed, the original amount was reduced to $45 million and then ended up at $60 million.

Although the final amount is less, Steuerwald noted two protections have been included in the language. First, the budget contains a line item which allows for the money to be augmented if additional dollars are needed. Second, the funds are non-reverting so any unspent money will not flow back into the state’s general fund.

Steuerwald’s original bill created the Justice Reinvestment Community Grants Program and tapped the Indiana Judicial Center to develop and administer the program. As HEA 1006 progressed through the Senate, the Judicial Center was dropped in favor of Community Corrections and the Division of Mental Health and Addiction.

Segal noted the Judicial Center will be part of the process since she is chair of the advisory council. The center will still be working with colleagues across the criminal justice system, she said, so she does not feel the center’s role in the grant and administration process will be any different than if it had been one of the silos of money.

“I’m still extremely supportive of 1006 and the mechanism (for distributing grants) that has been put in place,” Segal said.

Start date

HEA 1006 rolled back the effective date in which the majority of individuals convicted of low-level drug and property crimes would stop being sent to the DOC. The bill initially called for those offenders to remain in county jails starting July 1, 2015, but the Legislature changed the date to Jan. 1, 2016.

Steuerwald estimated that the change will keep 6,000 to 7,000 people out of the state prison system each year. He is confident the communities will be successful in helping many of these people.

“I’ve had very good feedback from judges and prosecutors and probation people and courts saying there’s a need, we are ready, give us the funds and we’ll handle this,” Steuerwald said. “I’ve had tremendous feedback from locals saying give us the tools and we will handle these people for you.”•

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