Senate Judiciary Committee sends 3 issues to study committee

The effect that revisions to Indiana’s Criminal Code are having on the population of county jails is now a topic up for further legislative review after the Indiana Senate Judiciary Committee passed a resolution to recommend the issue for a summer study committee.

In an end-of-session meeting on Tuesday, committee members passed Senate Resolution 51, “urging the legislative council to assign the topic of prohibiting persons convicted of a Level 6 felony from being sent to the Department of Correction to the appropriate committee.” Brought by Sen. Aaron Freeman, R-Indianapolis, SR 51 asks lawmakers to take a further look at the causes of jail overcrowding.

After revisions to Indiana’s Criminal Code laid out in House Enrolled Act 1006 created a requirement that offenders convicted of Level 6 felonies be sent to county jails rather than to the Department of Correction, Freeman said the issue of jail overcrowding became a serious concern for county law enforcement officials. Meanwhile, the number of inmates in the DOC is down by the thousands, Freeman said, shifting the burden to local law enforcement to accommodate a growing number of offenders.

However, local officials are not prepared to handle the growing number of inmates, and the state does not provide them with enough resources to ease their burden, Freeman said. For example, in Marion County, law enforcement officials are being forced to send some of their inmates to Elkhart County for incarceration, causing Marion County to incur the cost of paying Elkhart County to house its inmates, he said.

“I think that’s the type of situation where those of us who represent Marion County should say, ‘Houston we have a problem,’” Freeman said.

A summer study committee would be tasked with reviewing the Criminal Code and the commitment requirements for Level 6 felons to determine where offenders should be incarcerated, the senator said. SR 51 is one of three pieces of legislation that recommends sending this issue to a summer study committee.

While response to Freeman’s proposal was generally met favorably, Sen. Greg Taylor, D-Indianapolis, told the committee he thought the Legislature was focusing on the wrong issues. Jail overcrowding is not a direct result of the commitment of Level 6 felons to county jails, Taylor said, but instead is caused by a variety of factors, including pretrial waiting times and inmates’ inability to post bail.

Freeman said he didn’t dispute that fact, but said the commitment of Level 6 felons is an issue that needs to be studied to determine its role in the overcrowding problem.

SR 51 passed the committee 7-1, with Taylor voting against the measure.

The Senate Judiciary Committee also passed SR 58, authored by Sen. Rodric Bray, R-Martinsville. Under SR 58, proposals to enhance or reduce sentencing guidelines or create new criminal offenses would first be considered through a summer study committee before coming to the legislature for consideration.

Since the passage of HEA 1006, Bray said the General Assembly has considered 278 crime-related bills, including 90 separate proposals for criminal sentencing increases. While some of those proposals have been appropriate, the senator said the creation of a study committee would add an extra level of vetting and help ensure that criminal sentences are in proportion with the entirety of the criminal code.

The summer study committee would be tasked with recommending whether the full General Assembly should consider a bill that creates a new crime or sets a new sentencing level, including a sentencing reduction, a facet of SR 58 that eased some concerns raised by Taylor. However, if a proposal is time sensitive, then Bray said sending the measure to the study committee might not be the best course of action.

Larry Landis, executive director of the Indiana Public Defender Council, spoke in support of SR 58, saying it added an extra level of quality code to revisions to Indiana’s criminal system. The measure passed the committee 9-1, with Sen. Susan Glick, R-LaGrange, voting no.

Finally, the Senate Judiciary Committee passed SR 44, which would send the issue of “supported decision making” as it relates to adult guardianships to a summer study committee. Supported decision-making, or SDM, is a method that considers whether adult guardianships are appropriate in every situation, said Sen. Eric Koch, R-Bedford, who authored the measure.

In some instances, adults with mental disabilities or other similar problems might be able to retain some level of independence, making an adult guardianship inappropriate, Koch said. Describing an SDM system as somewhere between a power of attorney and guardianship, the senator said the program would surround adults with individuals who could consult with them as they make important decisions while also giving them the freedom to have the final say.

Clint McKay, director of operations for The Arc of Indiana, told the committee that adults would likely be surrounded by “family and trusted” advisors under an SDM system, which has already been implemented in states such as Texas. While many questions remain as to how SDM would work in Indiana’s probate courts, McKay said the summer study committee would be the beginning of a conversation about giving adults more options to retain independence in their lives.

SR 44 passed the committee unanimously, despite concerns raised by Sen. Lonnie Randolph, D-East Chicago.

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