SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) - Indiana lawmakers could go back to the drawing board
before sweeping changes to state sentencing guidelines take effect in July.
Two studies examining a massive criminal code overhaul that lawmakers passed
last year could point out areas needing adjustments, and some say that
suggests the overhaul shouldn’t take effect until 2015.
The sentencing overhaul was designed to reduce the need to build new prison
space or release offenders early by placing low-level offenders in
probation, work-release or addiction-treatment programs. But many counties
have expressed concern about the costs of handling an influx of inmates.
State Rep. Greg Steuerwald, R-Avon, who authored the original bill, said he
wants to see what the studies say about costs of the changes and possible
funding options before tinkering with the new sentencing guidelines. The
studies, which are due to a legislative committee by Dec. 10, will examine
bed space in state prisons and county jails, along with cost issues.
“The most critical part of the entire bill is the funding for the locals,”
Steuerwald told the South Bend Tribune. “If we do not fund that properly,
there was no sense in doing that bill.”
The Indiana Prosecuting Attorneys Council has voiced concerns about the
legislation, arguing that the sentencing range for drug dealers is too low.
The council also objects to a provision allowing judges to suspend an entire
sentence for what prosecutors say are violent crimes.
But public defenders and other interest groups have mostly lauded the new
sentence ranges and argued that being able to suspend sentences puts the
judge back in control of sentencings.
The changes approved last year are the first revisions to the state’s
criminal code since the 1970s. Many lawmakers say the update is needed to
create sentencing ranges that are proportionate with the crime.
The new guidelines establish felony ranges numbered from Class 1 to Class 6
instead of the current A through D system.
The new guidelines decrease minimum sentences for many crimes but require
that people serve about 75 percent of a sentence. Current law allows
offenders to serve 50 percent of their time. Lawmakers also hope to adjust
the legislation to ensure that offenders such as child molesters don’t serve
significantly less time than low-level drug dealers.
“The idea was to make the punishment meet the crime,” said state Sen.
Michael Young, R-Indianapolis.
Many prosecutors say penalties for dealing certain quantities of hard drugs
are too low. Larry Landis, executive director of the Indiana Public Defender
Council, said lawmakers should increase opportunities to use education to
reduce sentences to address issues of recidivism and prison crowding.