Funding in question
Indiana spends about $720 million a year on prisons. But the new law came with no funding for the local jails, community corrections programs and probation departments to absorb the low-level offenders that are supposed to be diverted from the state prisons under the new law. And it came with no additional funding for the critical mental health and substance-abuse treatment programs that are seen by judges, prosecutors, and defense attorneys alike as critical to reducing recidivism. About 40 percent of offenders who come out of the DOC commit another crime within three years.
Larry Landis, head of the Indiana Public Defender Council and a member of the study committee, said studies have shown about 80 percent of incarcerated offenders have drug or alcohol addictions or other mental health problems.
“You can’t just put someone on the probation rolls and hope for the best,” Landis said.
He worries that it may be tough politically to get more funding for treatment programs, since supporters of alternatives to prison can be seen as “soft on crime.” But he also believes it critical and hopes legislators see it that way too.
“We’ve got to stop spending all our resources on punishment, and ask ‘How do we reduce recidivism?’ Because if we can reduce that, we reduce crime and then we all win.’ ”
Steuerwald is confident that the two studies underway now will help lawmakers move forward. “There are a number of states that have already done sentencing reform, and have found that it not only reduced costs but reduced crime rates and reduced recidivism,” he said. “So that’s the goal. I think almost everybody in the criminal justice system understands that, but it’s just a matter of getting right.”
The two studies aren’t expected to be completed until later this year, which required the legislative study committee to get permission from legislative leaders to extend their deadline until the year’s end for completing their work. Legislative study committees typically have until late October to complete their work.
Maureen Hayden can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org