INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Sweeping changes that Indiana lawmakers
made this year to sentencing guidelines in hopes of slowing the growth of
the state's prison population will actually have the opposite effect,
according to a report presented Tuesday to a legislative committee.
The panel hired Applied Research Services Inc. to analyze Indiana's
revised sentencing guidelines, which are scheduled to take effect next
July. Its report concludes the changes will increase the state's prison
population over the next 10 years.
John Speir, the co-founder of the Atlanta-based consulting firm, told
committee members the new law's requirement that inmates serve at least 75
percent of their sentences will offset changes lawmakers made in
reclassifying offenses and setting new sentencing ranges.
Indiana's current law allows most inmates to be released after serving
half or less of their sentences if they stay out of trouble while behind
The sentencing overhaul approved by lawmakers in April was designed to
reduce the need to build new prison space or release inmates early by
placing low-level offenders in probation, work-release or
Speir's analysis projects that Indiana's prison population will increase
under the new guidelines from about 30,000 in 2014 to more than 35,500 by
2024. In contrast, the analysis found that if the state's current
sentencing provisions were to remain in place, Indiana's prison population
would rise to just above 34,000 inmates by 2024.
Previous studies of the new law's impact conducted by the state's
Department of Correction and the Legislative Services Agency had found
that Indiana's prison population would remain flat or decrease in the
Speir said his consulting firm tracks sentencing guideline changes either
proposed or enacted in six states. He said the long-term effect of such
changes are often unclear.
"It can take years for the impact to become apparent," he told members of
the Criminal Law and Sentencing Policy Study committee.
The panel's chairman, Sen. Michael Young, said lawmakers are expected to
sponsor legislation seeking to alter the new law's suspended sentence
elements and other provisions in their session that begins in January.
Young, R-Indianapolis, said the firm's report is expected to add fuel to
"The report we got today showing that the numbers are still going to go up
— it's not what we thought was going to happen. So we've got to look at
sentencing to see if there are things we can alter to keep that number
either steady or reduce it a little bit," he said.
The Indiana Department of Correction projects that the state's prison
population, which currently stands at about 29,500 inmates, will top
30,000 by June 2014.
Indiana's new admissions to its prison system surged 9 percent during
fiscal year 2013, a big increase from the 1 percent to 2 percent annual
increase the state had seen each year since 2009.
Speir told the panel he believes the 9 percent increase is an anomaly, but
Young said lawmakers are eager to see whether that trend continues.