National group recognizes Indiana for criminal justice reform

April 4, 2016

Indiana is getting a little love on social media Monday for efforts in recent years to reform its criminal justice system.

The U.S. Justice Action Network is including the Hoosier state in its national campaign “30 States, 30 Days” to prompt Congress to pass legislation reforming the federal justice system. During the month of April, the nonprofit will be highlighting what selected states have done to reduce their incarceration and recidivism rates.

“The focus on this is to say to Congress, which is moving at a glacial pace, that a lot of reform is already moving in your backyard and being successful in your backyard,” said Holly Harris, executive director of U.S. Justice Action Network.  

Headquartered in Washington, D.C., the U.S. Justice Action Network is a bipartisan organization working for criminal justice reform. It advocates for sentencing based on best practices that will address the problem of incarceration and the associated rising costs.

Today, the organization is particularly calling upon Sens. Dan Coats and Joe Donnelly along with Rep. Susan Brooks to follow their state’s example and help move the criminal code reform bills that are sitting in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives.  

Indiana is being recognized for passing an expungement law that allows some offenders to have their criminal conviction removed from their record. Also, the state is being applauded for the sweeping overhaul of its criminal code, which reclassified criminal offenses and provided treatment, rehabilitation and job training for low-level offenders.

All day on Twitter at #30States30Days, Indiana will be the topic of conversation.

In a press release announcing the Hoosier focus, the U.S. Justice Action Network called the state’s expungement law “a smart, common-sense way to ensure more Indiana residents are able to obtain good jobs and housing.”

Harris pointed to national statistics that show what Indiana is doing has been successful elsewhere. Other states that have taken similar steps have reduced overcrowding in their state prisons by providing alternates for non-violent offenders. This has lowered the number of former inmates committing new crimes and returning to jail, which has decreased the overall crime rate and lessened the burden on taxpayers in several states.

“We’re hopeful Indiana can push and do more,” Harris said.

Despite its effort to reform drug addicts, Indiana General Assembly did take a step toward incarceration. The Statehouse passed legislation in the 2016 session which imposed mandatory minimums for certain individuals convicted of a second crime involving methamphetamine or heroin.

Harris compared this to the “kneejerk reaction” in response to the crack and cocaine epidemic of the 1980s and 1990s. Then, legislatures and Congress imposed lengthy jail sentences and mandatory minimums to show they were tough on crime. However, the approach only exploded the number of people going into the criminal justice, according the U.S. Justice Action Network.

Tough on crime no longer brings public support, Harris said. “Nobody wants to do that anymore,” she explained. “They want to hear smart on crime.”



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