After failed amendments, IN Senate set to vote on bill allowing Level 6 offenders in DOC

Efforts to amend a bill that would undo a key tenet of criminal justice reform legislation has failed in the Indiana Senate, setting the bill up for a final vote in the upper chamber.

Sen. Rodney Pol, D-Ogden Dunes, proposed two failed amendments to House Bill 1004 on the Senate floor Monday. The bill would give judges discretion to send Level 6 felony offenders to the Indiana Department of Correction if the local county jail could not provide necessary mental health and addiction treatment.

The premise of HB 1004 rolls back a major portion of 2014’s House Enrolled Act 1006, which, among other provisions, required judges to send Level 6 felony offenders to a county jail, with limited exceptions. The idea of HEA 1006 was to allow low-level offenders to remain in their communities and close to their support networks while they received treatment for mental illness and addictions.

Although HB 1004 has received only a handful of no votes in the two legislative chambers, Democrats have been outspoken about their concerns that the General Assembly was not doing enough to ensure county jails have access to mental health treatment. On the Senate floor, Pol added a new concern to the mix: the risk that sending low-level offenders to the DOC could cut them off from their families.

To that end, Pol — the lone member of the Senate Corrections and Criminal Law Committee who opposed HB 1004 — proposed an amendment that would only allow Level 6 felony offenders to go to the DOC if they consented or if they would serve longer than 365 days. Committee discussion had focused partially on the fact that while the DOC can offer mental health and addiction treatment, low-level offenders might not serve enough time to receive the full benefit of that treatment.

Pol expressed concern on the Senate floor about rolling back a key provision of HEA 1006 that was premised on community-based recovery. Whereas a county jail would keep an offender close to home, a sentence to the DOC would mean being sent to one of 18 adult correctional facilities run by the state.

Pol gave the example of an offender whose family lives in Indianapolis. While the Pendleton Correctional Facility would be close enough for the offender’s family to visit regularly, the offender could also be housed in Wabash Valley, Michigan City or Miami County, to name a few — all likely too far for regular visits, the senator said.

Senate Minority Leader Greg Taylor supported Pol’s measure, but Republican Sen. Eric Koch, the bill’s Senate sponsor, opposed it, saying it should be up to judges, not offenders, to determine where a sentence should be served.

Pol pushed back on Koch’s comments, saying his amendment would not break new ground but instead would restore the purpose of HEA 1006. He called for a roll call vote on the amendment, which failed 10-36.

Another provision of HB 1004 sets conditions for lifetime parole and creates a Level 6 felony for the violation of lifetime parole. In a second amendment, Pol sought to add language holding that, “A modified parole condition must be reasonably related to the parolee’s successful reintegration into the community and not unduly restrictive of a fundamental right.”

Pol gave the example of a lifetime parolee who is the sole caretaker for a family member but who is required under the conditions of parole to have a job. Such a condition would put the parolee in an “untenable situation,” Pol said.

Koch, however, argued the proposed language was vague, as neither “unduly restrictive” nor “fundamental right” was defined.

The second amendment failed on a voice vote.

HB 1004, originally authored by Republican Rep. Randy Frye of Greensburg, was scheduled for a final vote in the full Senate on Tuesday afternoon. The vote had not been called at Indiana Lawyer deadline.

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