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January 19, 2011

Indiana prosecutors oppose state sentencing reform proposals

As detailed in this local article, which is headlined "Prosecutors group assails proposal to cut prison sentences," discussion of sentencing reform to cut prison terms and associated costs has prompted the usual suspects to speak out in opposition.  Here are excerpts from this interesting article:

A group of county prosecutors has denounced a legislative proposal backed by Gov. Mitch Daniels to shorten sentences for many drug crimes. The prosecutors' position signals what could be a provocative debate in the Statehouse over whether the proposal is a responsible way to curtail prison costs or a soft-on-crime measure that might endanger the public.

The sentence reductions are part of a larger criminal justice overhaul backed by Daniels, Chief Justice Randall Shepard and two national think tanks. But one senator involved fears the debate over cutting sentences -- and the almost-certain accusations of being soft on crime -- could torpedo the entire reform package.

That debate has been quietly raging since mid-December. That's when the board of the Association of Indiana Prosecuting Attorneys voted to oppose the state Criminal Code Evaluation Commission's recommendations to shorten sentences for drug crimes such as possession and dealing of cocaine and methamphetamine.

"There are all kinds of proposals on the table that reduce and reassign sentencing levels," said the board's 2010 president, Shelby County Prosecutor Kent Apsley. "Some of them in my view are pretty extreme changes in the law and probably go too far. The question is: Where is the breaking point where you're saving money to the point that it may seriously impact public safety?"...

The prosecutors board's vote has no formal impact on the proposed legislation. Still, over the past several weeks, commission members have been trying to hash out a compromise with prosecutors. The sentence reductions are especially important because they create the savings that would pay for other reforms in the proposal....

The proposed reform package drafted by the Criminal Code Evaluation Commission would require offenders convicted of most felonies to spend the final six months to three years of their sentences outside prison in community monitoring programs...

The state also would reduce sentences for many drug crimes, downgrading possession of small amounts of cocaine or methamphetamine to a D felony from a C, and downgrading small-scale dealing of those drugs to a C felony from a B. (A D felony can result in a sentence of six months to three years, a C felony of two to eight years and a B felony of six to 20 years.)

The sentence reductions are the main sticking point for prosecutors, who are willing to accept many of the other proposed reforms, said Steve Johnson, director of the Indiana Prosecuting Attorneys Council, who served on the Criminal Code Evaluation Commission, along with the chief justice and the attorney general.... Lawmakers on the commission said conceding to prosecutors' demands could cause the whole plan to fall apart, because the proposal envisions using the money saved by reducing prison terms to strengthen community monitoring. Changes would include expanding drug abuse treatment services and concentrating more resources on monitoring higher-risk offenders.

January 19, 2011 at 11:36 AM | Permalink

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