Lawmaker: State Prison Acceptance Policy Change Won’t Release Bad Guys
By Mike Perleberg
(Indianapolis, Ind.) – A new Indiana law written in part by a local lawmaker will change how long criminals stay behind bars and where they do their time.
“For too long we have operated under the assumption that if someone broke a law, that warehousing them with other people who broke a law was the best thing to do,” said State Representative Jud McMillin (R-Brookville), co-author of House Enrolled Act 1006.
HEA 1006 passed the General Assembly in 2013, reducing Indiana’s good time law for inmates on good behavior while behind bars to serve from just 50 percent credit – or one good day served, one day of credit received – to 75 percent. The law marked the first major reform of Indiana’s criminal code since 1977.
Analyses of HEA 1006 predicted an 18 percent increase in state inmates by 2024 thanks to the credit change. To mitigate the increase, lawmakers revisited HEA 1006 this year and passed a bill of the same name and number. When portions of the new law take effect July 1, 2014, Indiana’s four-level felony system (Class A, B, C, and D felonies) will be expanded to Level 1 through 6 felonies.
McMillin, who works as a criminal defense attorney, says lawmakers wanted the wider range of felony classes to allow judges and prosecutors increased proportionality in sentencing.
“Doing so would allow us to reserve our prison space for the worst offenders. This is accomplished by looking to use modern technology and more alternatives to incarceration like community corrections, electric monitoring and work release programs for those convicted of low-level criminal offenses,” the second-term state lawmaker said.
Calling jails and prisons overcrowded and bloated, McMillin said Indiana’s criminal justice system shouldn’t lock up everyone who has broken a law, but should do a better job of addressing recidivism and promoting rehabilitation.
“We reached the point in Indiana, after seeing other states struggle with overcrowding, where we needed to consider viable alternatives to avoid having to build new prisons,” he said, noting that a new state prison would cost roughly $150 million to build and $50 million to operate annually.
There have been recent media reports on HEA 1006 stating that the Indiana Department of Corrections would not accept low-level felons at state prisons. McMillin contends some of those reports.
“They suggest that as a result of this law people who should go to jail are going to be released, when in fact just the opposite is currently true, which is preventing us from keeping the bad guys locked up and is costing the tax payers way more than it should,” he said.
D felonies – such as some assault, drug, and property offenses – will become Level 6 felonies under HEA 1006. This July 1, the Indiana Department of Corrections prisons will no longer accept D or Level 6 offenders if their sentence’s earliest possible release date is less than 90 days from the date of their sentencing date. On July 1, 2015, the policy will be expanded to deny IDOC acceptance of convicts whose sentence carries an earliest possible release date of one year or less from their sentencing.
About 4,400 of Indiana’s 30,000 state prison inmates are Class D felony offenders.
Some county sheriffs have raised concerns that the state’s non-acceptance of those convicts will put an extra burden on county jails and community corrections programs. McMillin points to HEA 1006 companion legislation HEA 1268, which he also co-authored.
According to a fiscal analysis of HEA 1268, the new law would make grant money available to counties providing mental health, substance abuse forensic treatment, and wraparound services for people who have entered the criminal justice system as a felon or with a prior felony conviction.
McMillin said those mechanisms to provide help and treatment to ex-offenders in the form of services that cost about $18 per person per day, compared to a cost of $58 per day to house a person in prison.
The law, however, does not specify a particular apportionment of funding.
Also, HEA 1006 entitles sheriffs to a per diem and medical expense reimbursement for the cost of incarcerating a Level 6 felon serving a less-than-one-year sentence at a county jail starting in 2015, subject to review by the state budget committee. The law also allows prosecutors to offer pre-trial diversion for Level 5 and 6 felonies.
A widely cited statistic is that the U.S. is home to only five percent of the world’s population, yet the country holds 25 percent of the world’s prisoners. At the state level, the Brookville Republican believes Indiana cannot keep doing what it has always done in regards to imprisoning offenders, otherwise the state will keep getting that it has always gotten.
“There is a better way to approach our criminal justice system and I am confident that the steps taken in this last year’s General Assembly move us in that direction. Often before we can change any practical applications, we have to be willing to reevaluate our thought process,” McMillin said.