When a crime is committed in our community, we expect an appropriate recourse. We hope that through a fair trial the justice system will hand down an adequate sentence to fit the crime; a consequence to be served by the convicted that does more than close a case but also acts as a deterrent to keep people from committing that action in the future. But, when people continue to break the law and are repeat offenders, has the public been best served? Should the goal of our criminal system be more punitive or rehabilitative?
In recent years, state legislators from both parties have joined with experts in all legal and judicial fields to work towards reducing recidivism and striking a balance between punitive and rehabilitative justice. This session, we took the first major steps towards achieving that goal through a bipartisan overhaul of the laws which govern our criminal justice system. The Legislature took a tough, yet smarter, stance on the criminal code (House Enrolled Act 1006).
In the past, non-violent criminals were often sent to our state prisons. The Department of Correction spent time and money to process and house these offenders, only for them to be released a few short months later. This left little to no time to address the behavior which sent them there. As a result, many were returning to their communities only to find themselves behind bars again. When we took a closer look at this issue, we found that, through intensive supervision, we could break this cycle.
Offenders under intensive supervision are better able to address the root causes of their behavior by participating in drug treatment or mental health programs. Greater success has been seen by implementing these programs at the local level through community corrections to help prevent recidivism. In looking at more serious offenders, the new criminal code rewrite keeps these individuals behind bars longer, keeping Hoosier communities safer. Credit time earned from obtaining degrees and completing other programs will now be capped at two years, down from the current four years.
The sentencing changes in this legislation are estimated to reduce the prison population through 2020, saving taxpayer dollars and potentially delaying the future construction of another state prison. While this was a step in the right direction, revising the criminal code, which hasn’t been substantially reformed in 30 years, can be daunting. In order to allow this issue to be studied in greater detail, it will be analyzed this summer during interim study committees.
We also passed expungement legislation that garnered bipartisan support allowing non-violent and non-sexual offenders to wipe their record clean after a certain period of time (HEA 1482). A 2012 study by the National Institute of Justice showed that nearly one-third of American adults have been arrested by age 23. It is important that offenders are held accountable and made to live with the consequences of their actions. However, these poor decisions shouldn’t keep Hoosiers from obtaining meaningful employment long after their time has been served.
Indiana has now joined 33 other states in having an expungement policy. Under certain circumstances, a court will now be able to expunge records concerning misdemeanor convictions after five years. Minor felony convictions may also be expunged after eight to 10 years. When these records are ordered to be expunged by the court, they are to be removed or sealed. Certain serious crimes such as murder, human trafficking and official misconduct will not eligible for expungement.
I believe that these changes to our criminal justice system will be mutually beneficial in all sectors of society. We will work to keep our communities safe by making sure the punishment fits the crime while also helping offenders return to society in a positive way. What’s more, we will increase the available workforce and cut taxpayer dollars that would have gone towards housing low-level criminals in our state facilities. In sum, this is about keeping the worst offenders locked up and making sure our communities are safe.