By Tim Lanane
At a time when bipartisan consensus is among the most challenging assertions to claim, legislation modernizing the state’s criminal code achieves just that. The bill is the result of diligent work by legislators from both sides of the aisle as well as stakeholders like the state’s prosecuting attorneys, judges and other concerned parties.
That’s why I found it so troubling to hear Gov. Pence, in what appears to be his first comments on the issue, extol that Indiana should be focused on reducing crime, not sentences. The governor is right, reducing crime is the ultimate aim but Hoosiers expect more than just speaking points. They expect a plan. And that’s exactly what a group of bipartisan lawmakers have carefully considered and crafted. It’s unfortunate that the governor elected to take such a shortsighted stance instead of engaging the involved parties and examining what is a complex issue.
First, some history on the process. Formed in 2009, the Criminal Code Evaluation Commission was tasked with streamlining Indiana’s piecemeal and antiquated criminal statue. The Commission spent over 1,000 hours combing through every line of the state’s code, hearing testimony from a range of stakeholders and working to develop a comprehensive reform package.
The resulting legislation takes a balanced approach, toughening penalties for violent criminals and ensuring that the worst offenders serve 75 percent of their sentences, up from just 50 percent now. By providing counseling and addiction services to low-level offenders the package aims at keeping first-time offenders from becoming repeat criminals. Nearly 40 percent of Indiana offenders released in 2004 had returned to prison by 2007. By utilizing these evidence-based practices, we can lower recidivism and reduce the $670 million in public funds Indiana spends on corrections annually. In its entirety, the proposal keeps violent criminals off the streets, closes the revolving door at Indiana’s prisons and creates a sustainable and fiscally sound path for Indiana’s prison population.
Unfortunately, it appears the governor’s comments have spooked some lawmakers who responded by hastily upping sentences for marijuana offenders.
It’s my hope that as the Legislature moves forward with this proposal, the governor takes another look at all that’s gone into this initiative. I hope legislators return the proposal to its original intent, a reasoned, comprehensive approach to reducing crime and protecting Hoosiers.
Tim Lanane represents the 25th District and is Indiana Senate Democratic Leader.