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

Three Goshen elementary schools — Chandler, Chamberlain and West Goshen — are providing free meals to all students during the school year as part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Community Eligibility Provision of the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010. Nearly 80 percent of students at Chandler, 89 percent of students at Chamberlain and 78 percent of students at West Goshen already qualify for free or reduced-price lunches based on their family income. How do you feel about the new lunch program?

I think it’s a good idea to feed all the students free of charge
I think those who can afford it should pay for their school meals
I think all students should be required to pay for their school meals
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