Indiana Senate endorses bill allowing Level 6 offenders to go to DOC

A bill allowing Level 6 felony offenders to serve their sentences in the Indiana Department of Correction for addiction and mental health treatment has passed the full Indiana Senate, setting the bill up for final consideration.

The Senate on Tuesday passed House Bill 1004 with a 46-3 vote. The bill, authored by Rep. Randy Frye, R-Greensburg, gives judges discretion to send Level 6 felony offenders to the DOC if the local county jail cannot provide necessary mental health treatment services.

The bill is largely viewed as a partial rollback of House Enrolled Act 1006, wide-ranging criminal justice reform legislation enacted in 2013 and 2014. With limited exceptions, HEA 1006 required that Level 6 felony offenders be housed in their county jails so they could remain in their local communities, close to their support networks, while seeking mental health and addiction treatment.

But with a growing jail overcrowding problem and with many counties lacking adequate treatment services, Frye said judges needed the discretion to send low-level offenders to the DOC, which has treatment services available immediately. If an offender is sentenced in a county that does have treatment services available, the judge could still send him or her to the county jail.

The bill has received bipartisan, though not unanimous, support. Critics have argued the legislation undoes a key tenet of HEA 1006 and also seemingly lets the state off the hook for failing to provide funding for treatment services in local communities.

But Frye has rejected the idea that the state “failed,” saying instead that his bill was a response to new information received through the collection of data.

HB 1004 was amended in the Senate Corrections and Criminal Law Committee, although amendments proposed on the Senate floor failed. The committee amendments mean the Indiana House will either have to concur with the changes or dissent.

If the House dissents, the bill will be sent to a conference committee consisting of members of both chambers. Any version of the legislation adopted by the conference committee will have to be approved by both chambers before the bill is sent to the governor.

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