Bill revamps advisory group for Indiana criminal justice reform

A bill that would remake a key component of Indiana’s criminal code overhaul sailed through the House of Representatives on Tuesday with the author saying the measure will improve the efficiency of “one of the best things” that was included in the reform of the state’s criminal and sentencing statutes.

House Bill 1047 calls for the Justice Reinvestment Advisory Council to be combined with the evidence-based decision-making team that was established in 2015 through the work of the National Institute of Corrections. JRAC was formed as part the HEA 1006, passed in 2015, which built upon the work of the 2013 update to Indiana’s criminal code. The council was charged with reviewing and advising on policies and practices related to incarceration, rehabilitation and recidivism.

“I think it’s one of the best things we did,” Rep. Greg Steuerwald, the author of HB 1047 and the architect of Indiana criminal code reform, said of JRAC.

Many members of JRAC also serve on the evidence-based decision-making team, so combining the two groups will eliminate the need for separate meetings and create more efficiency, according to Steuerwald. The members of both committees are drawn from various sectors of the criminal justice system like the prosecutors, public defenders, sheriff, Department of Correction, probation and community corrections.

Testifying in support of HE 1047 before the House Committee on the Courts and Criminal Code, Mary Kay Hudson said combining the two groups will also enable them to do their work better.

“We believe that these amendments (to the statutes that created JRAC) will provide additional support and a mechanism for the Justice Reinvestment Advisory Council to take a broader view of some of the issues facing criminal justice today, including review of evidence-based practices, some policy recommendations, some recommendations to the General Assembly, and how we can support both reductions in recidivism and more efficiencies in the criminal justice system,” said Hudson, executive director of Indiana Court Services, an agency of the Indiana Supreme Court Office of Judicial Administration.

HB 1047 passed the House committee on an 11-0 vote and breezed through the House with strong bipartisan support in a 92-0 vote. It is now headed to the Senate, where Sens. Michael Young, R-Indianapolis, and Eric Koch, R-Bedford, have been listed as the sponsors.

At the House committee hearing, the Indiana Public Defender Council, the Association of Indiana Counties, the Indiana Prosecuting Attorneys Council, and the Indiana Sheriff’s Association all spoke in support of HB 1047.

“This is very important,” IPAC executive director Chris Naylor told the committee members. “I’m very excited about it because this will help keep evidence-based decision-making sustainable over the long haul in Indiana.”

At the third reading of HE 1047 on the House floor, Steuerwald took a moment to highlight the progress of Recovery Works, a statewide program that provides drug addiction services to individuals in the criminal justice system.

He said a total of 48,000 people have either gone through the program or are currently enrolled and the recidivism rate for that “high-risk population” is just under 15%, far below the typical 35% to 40% rate for that group. In addition, he cited a study by Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis that found Recovery Works has brought on an economic savings of $80 million to $100 million to Indiana.

“We’re not claiming it’s the panacea but … if you don’t have a drug court and you don’t have a Recovery Works program, you’re missing out,” Steuerwald said.

Rep. Matt Pierce, D-Bloomington, praised the work of JRAC as he spoke in support of the bill. He also called on his colleagues to do more to support the efforts to help those struggling with drug addiction.

“I would plead to all of you, next year as we go into a budget cycle, let’s really ask ourselves how we can get these programs we know work up and running in every county and every community in the state because that is going to save us a lot of money and it’s going to save a lot of lives,” he said.

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