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December 20, 2010

"Think outside the prison walls"

The title of this post is the headline of this Indianapolis Star editorial endorsing proposals to restructure Indiana's sentencing system. Here are excerpts:

Gov. Mitch Daniels' endorsement of proposed corrections reforms should add needed momentum to legislative action that is long overdue.

The details will be devilish, of course, as the Indiana General Assembly sets about overhauling a penal code that's nearly four decades old.  More than 100 laws have been passed in that span that have lengthened prison sentences, and not a one that has taken the other direction. 

The result: Indiana's prison population has soared in this decade while those of neighboring states have grown only modestly.  The same is true of costs, which are projected to reach $1 billion a year by 2017.  This, in a state enduring serial revenue shortfalls....

Reduced and alternative sentencing for nonviolent offenders is the key recommendation in a detailed report from The Pew Center on the States and the Council of State Governments Justice Center....  The merits of alternatives to incarceration are manifest when it comes to reclaiming lives.  Even if that were not enough to move lawmakers from their politically comfortable get-tough posture, the monetary cost of locking up nearly 30,000 Hoosiers ought to compel them to think and act beyond the walls.

This piece from another local paper, which is headlined "Panel recommends graduated sentencing for drug, theft crimes," provides more details on the reform proposals being discussed in Indiana. It also highlights that political rhetoric might still get in the way of needed policy reforms:

Gov. Mitch Daniels said he supports sentencing changes that save money and reduce prison population growth.  But [state Rep. Linda] Lawson, deputy leader of House Democrats, said she's not sure the restructuring plan will be approved by the Republican-controlled General Assembly, even with the Republican governor's endorsement.

"I can see right now several legislators getting up on the House floor and holding direct-mail pieces and saying, 'See this right here; if you vote for this you're going to be soft on crime and they're going to do a piece of literature on you that's going to look just like this,'" Lawson said.  "It just depends on how persuasive those legislators are.

December 20, 2010 at 11:05 AM | Permalink


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