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JRAC presents 2 criminal reform bills to House committee

February 2, 2017

As Indiana’s criminal justice system continues to roll out legislatively mandated reforms, members of the Justice Reinvestment Advisory Council are working with legislators to implement changes that will benefit both law enforcement and offenders.

Rep. Greg Steuerwald, R-Avon, appeared before the House Courts and Criminal Code Committee Wednesday alongside Indiana judicial leaders to present two bills brought to him by JRAC. The first bill, House Bill 1349, creates data reporting guidelines for groups and programs that receive funds approved by JRAC and appropriated through the Indiana Department of Correction.

Previously, only county community corrections programs were required to report to JRAC and the DOC on the progress of their offender and treatment supervision services, Dave Powell, executive director of the Indiana Prosecuting Attorneys Council and a JRAC member, told the committee. But as criminal code reform continues to expand and funds are distributed to other programs aimed at reducing recidivism rates, Powell said the new reporting requirements are needed to even the playing field and require all groups that receive DOC funds to report on progress.

HB 1349 lists a bevy of required data, including the total number of participants in particular treatment of supervision programs, the percentage of those participants who successfully complete their programs, the percentage of participants who returned to the DOC after completing their programs and other requirements.

“We all want to be held accountable and want the best public safety system possible,” Powell said. “This is a start.”

JRAC’s second bill, House Bill 1010, also authored by Steuerwald, would ease up on some of the restrictions that prohibit Level 6 felons from being committed to the DOC. Under current Indiana law, Level 6 felons cannot be sent to the DOC unless their sentence, probation or parole was revoked as a result of a conviction on a new criminal offense.

However, Larry Landis, a JRAC member and head of the Indiana Public Defender Council, told committee members that the requirement for a new offense was neither in the interest of legal officials who would have to go through the process of securing another conviction, nor of offenders who would have to add another conviction to their records. Thus, HB 1010 removes the requirement of the commission of a second offense in order to send a Level 6 offender to the DOC.

Further, current Indiana law only allows an offender to be sent to the DOC if they have two consecutive sentences for Level 6 felonies. Offenders with consecutive sentences on Level 6 and Level 5 or higher felonies could not be sent to the state, which Landis said was not the actual intent of the legislative reform.

Finally, HB 1010 would allow Level 6 felons to be moved out of county jails and into the DOC if their sentences are enhanced as habitual offenders or vehicular substance offenders. Many offenders often want to be moved out of county jails and into the DOC, Landis said, because they are given more freedoms under state supervision.

Rep. Wendy McNamara, R-Mount Vernon, asked Landis if the ease on the restrictions would help combat county jail overcrowding. Both Landis and Steuerwald agreed that the reforms might provide some relief to county jails, but not a significant amount.

Rep. Matt Pierce, D-Indianapolis, noted during committee discussion that the intent of the restrictions on Level 6 felons in the DOC was not to “warehouse” all of them in county jails, but instead to promote local efforts to expanding and improving community corrections and other local anti-recidivism programs.

Both bills passed the committee unanimously.
 

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