Bill allowing Level 6 felons to go to DOC headed to governor’s desk

A bill allowing Level 6 felony offenders to serve their sentences in the Indiana Department of Correction for mental health and addiction treatment is headed for the governor’s desk.

The Indiana House on Tuesday morning concurred in Senate amendments to House Bill 1004, clearing the final legislative hurdle and sending the bill to Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb.

The bill rolls back a provision of House Enrolled Act 1006 — widespread criminal code reform legislation enacted nearly a decade ago — by allowing Level 6 felony offenders to go to the DOC rather than their local county jails. HEA 1006 required courts to sentence low-level offenders to a county jail, with limited exceptions.

The idea of HEA 1006 was that low-level offenders suffering from mental illness and drug addictions could receive treatment locally, close to their support networks, if they served their sentences in a county jail. But according to Rep. Randy Frye, who authored HB 1004, many communities lack the necessary treatment resources to assist jail inmates.

The DOC, however, has mental health and addiction services available immediately, Frye, a Greensburg Republican, said. He added that HB 1004 does not require courts to send low-level felons to the DOC — if a county has treatment resources available, a Level 6 felony offender could stay in the local jail.

The bill has received widespread and bipartisan — though not unanimous — support. Democratic lawmakers have lamented the state’s “failure” to provide counties with the funding needed to set up local treatment programs, but many of those Democrats still supported the bill as a necessary step to ease jail overcrowding.

Frye has rejected the idea that the state “failed,” saying instead that he drafted HB 1004 based on new data the state has collected.

The bill passed the House in January and the Indiana Senate in February, then was sent back to the House following amendments in the Senate Corrections and Criminal Law Committee. Those amendments included language:

  • Clarifying that the new law would only apply to Level 6 felony offenses committed after June 30.
  • Defining a “calendar day” as it relates to the accrual of good time credit and clarifying how good time credit is earned.
  • Incorporating Senate Bill 181, which provides that offenders on lifetime parole who violate the conditions of their parole commit a Level 6 felony offense, and defines other conditions of lifetime parole.

The bill advanced through the Senate Appropriations Committee without amendment, and attempts to amend it on the Senate floor failed.

The House voted 94-2 to concur with the Senate amendments. If the concurrence vote had failed, the bill would have been sent to a conference committee that included members of both chambers, who would have worked to draft a bill that both chambers could endorse.

With the House’s concurrence, the bill’s next step is to be sent to Holcomb’s desk. The governor will have seven days from receipt of the bill to sign it, veto it or let it take effect without his signature.

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