Goshen News, Goshen, IN

Opinion

February 28, 2014

Discretion means more alternative programs needed

Indiana’s criminal code is getting a makeover to give judges more leeway in sentencing low-level, non-violent offenders and we think this move has some merit, but only if state legislators boost funding for alternative program.

As our Statehouse reporter Maureen Hayden pointed out in her article Thursday about the new sentencing guidelines that begin July 1, the changes are due to increasing prison costs. Hayden reported that by 2017 state projections show $1 billion a year will be spent on state prisons.

WHILE MONEY IS a factor in all things involving government, in the judicial system, results should be the overriding factor. For instance, there is a reason that minimum sentences were enacted over the past few decades, and that was because the public, through their state representatives, had become weary of chronic crime. Even low-level offenders, including repeat shoplifters, victimize the public. And the public wanted those people jailed.

Now state legislators are on a money-saving spree and are attempting to cut local school district and local government spending at unprecedented rates. These sentencing reductions seem to fit well into that movement.

BUT THE PURPOSE OF our state judicial system is to dispense justice, and state sentencing guidelines were adopted over the decades to level the highs and lows in sentencing. Still today, when judges give someone a light sentence or a severe sentence when allowed, the public may become outraged. Those situations also erode confidence in the judicial system. Statewide sentencing guidelines lessen the chance for sentencing extremes.

On the other hand, our staffers have watched thousands of local residents make their way to the state’s penal system because of their addictions. Drug and alcohol abuse are the reason most people find themselves standing before a judge, even when their crime is robbery, theft or check fraud. An addiction drives many Elkhart County residents into a series of bad decisions.

THESES ARE THE PEOPLE we think should not be subject to mandatory sentencing. But to accommodate more leeway and options at sentencing, state legislators have to increase their funding for community-based addictions treatment. Without more funding, the elimination of sentencing guidelines for these offenders will just be window dressing by legislators.

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Poll

Last weekend (July 12) the Goshen Parks Department held its Kid’s Try-athlon to promote childhood fitness and this week (July 18) the new bicycle trail is open to the fairgrounds in Goshen, offering residents a healthy way to get to the annual agriculture exposition. Have you joined the local fitness movement?

Yes, I work at eating healthy and exercising
No, I am happy with my fitness level
Changing my diet and exercise frequency is a work in progress
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