The Herald Bulletin

Afternoon Update

Local Politics

April 22, 2013

Maureen Hayden: Funding likely unavailable if criminal reform bill passes

INDIANAPOLIS — If the criminal code reform bill passes through the Indiana General Assembly, it’ll likely be missing a critical element: The money to make it work.  

One of the bill’s original goals was to divert low-level, nonviolent offenders out of state prisons, where the worst offenders belong, and into community-based programs proven to reduce recidivism.

But with just days to go before the session’s end, nowhere in the legislation or the $30 billion budget bill are the dollars for local jails and community correction facilities to run the drug rehabilitation programs that criminal justice experts say are needed to make a real dent in crime.

It’s as if lawmakers have forgotten what started the rewrite of the state’s criminal code three years ago by a commission the Legislature appointed: Fears that our addiction to incarceration was fiscally unsustainable.

So here’s a brief reminder: In the first decade of the 21st century, the number of people living in Indiana grew 6.6 percent. Over that same decade, the number of people living in our prisons went up by 47 percent, driving prison spending up by 37 percent. The biggest increase was in low-level drug and theft offenders, many of whom were rotating through the justice system.

Here’s what else we know: As in other states across the nation, a majority of our current prison inmates — maybe more than 75 percent — were sentenced for some drug-related crime. They were selling drugs, stealing to buy drugs, or committing other crimes while on drugs or to acquire drugs.

Republican state Sen. Randy Head of Logansport has been tough on the criminal code reform bill, concerned it was a little too soft on some crimes. The former deputy prosecutor succeeded in amending it to beef back up some penalties, which is one reason why the bill went into last-ditch negotiations between its House and Senate authors.

Now one of his concerns is that bill, if it does get passed and signed into law, will fail if there’s no money for community-based drug treatment programs.

“Nothing we do is going to have its maximum effect unless we deal with addicts,” Head said. “There is a certain level of people who are going to commit crimes to fuel their addiction. They’re going to get caught, they’re going to go to prison, they’re going to get out, and they’re going to do it again regardless what the sentences are. Until we can correct that, we’re going to have a problem on our hands, and it’s going to be costly.”

So why, in a $30 billion budget bill that includes a mix of $500 million in tax cuts and leaves intact a hefty surplus, is there no money to invest in what Head and others call crime prevention?

His answer: There’s “no political will to spend the money.”

I get it. Earmarking hard-earned Hoosier taxpayers’ dollars for law-breaking drug addicts doesn’t charm the voters like a tax cut does.

But other fiscally conservative states are doing it. Among them is West Virginia. The Legislature there just passed a bill that mandates every county has a drug court program — like those in about one-third of Indiana’s 92 counties — which offer nonviolent offenders drug treatment and testing as an alternative to prison. And the legislation adds $25 million in state funding for local communities to provide increased supervision and drug treatment for recently released inmates.

It’s not the perfect bill — that’s not how the legislative process works. But it seems a step closer to the often-stated goal of criminal code reformers here in Indiana who’ve promised to move the state from “tough on crime” to “smart on crime.”

Maureen Hayden covers the Statehouse for the CNHI newspapers in Indiana. She can be reached at maureen.hayden@indianamediagroup.com.

 

1
Text Only
Local Politics
  • NWS - HB0423 - Primary Treasurer Dem - Tamie Dixon-Tatum Treasurer candidates want partnerships

    Democrats Kathy Mougeotte and Tamie Dixon-Tatum explain how they were inspired to run for a political office. They are opponents seeking their party's nomination for treasurer in the May 6 primary.

    April 23, 2014 2 Photos

  • NWS-HB0423-Primary Election Treasurer Rep-Micah Mitchell Incumbent challenged by first-time candidate

    Kelly Gaskill says she's made numerous improvements in the operation of the Madison County treasurer's office since taking the helm in 2011. But her Republican challenger in the May 6 primary, Micah Mitchell, doesn't shy away from criticizing how Gaskill has run the office.

    April 23, 2014 2 Photos

  • Huckabee, Priebus headlining Ind. GOP convention

    Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and National Republican Party Chairman Reince Priebus are headlining the Indiana Republican Party's 2014 convention in June.

    April 22, 2014

  • NWS - HB0422 - Commissioners Race-Smith, John First-time candidate Smith challenges Owens Steffanie Owens is seeking the Republican Party nomination for a second term as Madison County commissioner against John Smith who is seeking his first political office.

    April 22, 2014 2 Photos

  • Bell leads in sheriff campaign spending

    Going into the final month of the primary election campaign, Scott Mellinger, one of three Democrats seeking the party nomination for sheriff, has the most cash on hand.

    April 22, 2014

  • GOP endorses several primary candidates For the first time in nearly four decades the Madison County Republican Party has endorsed candidates in the May 6 primary.

    April 21, 2014

  • Turner case tests bounds of 'citizen legislature'

    When a legislative ethics panel meets this week to review the case of House Speaker Pro Tem Eric Turner, members could have trouble finding clear-cut answers, in large part because of the Indiana General Assembly's status as a "citizen legislature."

    April 20, 2014

  • SPL - PT041014 - Ken de la Bastide column - Ken sig Ken de la Bastide: County may eliminate Data Processing Board

    Action two weeks ago by the Madison County commissioners to close Data Processing Board meetings to the public might run afoul of the Indiana Open Door law, and a local resident is considering filing a complaint with the Public Access Counselor’s office for a determination.

    April 19, 2014 1 Photo

  • NWS - HB0417 - election forum - 15 Candidates meet in Alexandria

    Several Madison County candidates running for a variety of offices met at Alexandria-Monroe High School Wednesday night to introduce themselves to voters and talk about some issues.

    April 17, 2014 2 Photos

  • Leaders await decision on Indiana Plan expansion

    Two of the state's top Republican lawmakers said Tuesday that they would like to see the federal government sign off on an expansion of Medicaid through the state's health care plan for low-income residents, but they added that they have little idea how soon that could happen.

    April 16, 2014

Hyperlocal Search
Premier Guide
Find a business

Walking Fingers
Maps, Menus, Store hours, Coupons, and more...
Premier Guide