Goshen News, Goshen, IN

January 17, 2013

Time is right to re-write state’s criminal code

— For the past couple years criminal sentencing reform has been simmering on the Indiana Statehouse’s back burner while topics such as Right-to-Work boiled over.

Perhaps now is the time for our state representatives and senators to adequately address a criminal code that dates back to 1977 and has been amended more than 100 times over the past two decades to either add crimes or extend sentences for existing crimes. The result has been an explosion of low-level, Class D felons who are now incarcerated on the taxpayer dime.

Ten years ago the Indiana Department of Corrections estimated it cost more than $57 a day to house an inmate. Elkhart County Sheriff Brad Rogers estimated in 2011 that the annual cost of incarceration per inmate was between $20,000 and $40,000. Rogers has been in favor of sentencing reforms, as has state Rep. Wes Culver of Goshen. We’re pleased that their minds are open to more common-sense solutions.

The piecemeal code revisions over the years have also created inconsistencies within the code as well as disproportionate penalties. For instance, some drug possession penalties are harsher than penalties for sexual assault. That’s just not intelligent.

On Monday legislation was introduced that rewrites much of the state’s criminal code, even calling for significantly reduced penalties for marijuana possession.

We are in favor of a responsible breakdown of Indiana’s criminal code. It is time for it. Some of the money saved from putting low-level offenders in jail can perhaps be re-directed into drug abuse prevention and rehabilitation programs outside of prison walls. The more people we can help without putting them behind bars the better.

Officials at the IDOC estimated in 2011 that nearly half the state’s prison population consisted of low-level thieves (28 percent) and those who were caught possessing drugs (19 percent).

We look forward to the upcoming discussions in the Statehouse on sentencing reform and hold out hope that when all the talking is over, Indiana will have new guidelines that are fairer and more cost effective than what we have now.