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November 1, 2012

Commission approves criminal code reforms

INDIANAPOLIS — The effort to overhaul major portions of Indiana’s criminal code to make punishment more proportionate to the crime moved another step forward Wednesday.

The state’s Criminal Code Evaluation Commission approved much of a 382-page draft of proposed legislation that contains sweeping changes to the code, including more levels of felonies, lower penalties for some drug and theft crimes and potentially more prison time for the worst sex and violent offenders.

The 16-member commission, which is made up lawmakers, judges, and representatives from the state’s prosecutors, public defenders, and state prisons, failed to reach agreement on some key areas. Among them: the sentencing ranges for the six new felony levels that the commission thinks should replace the current four felony levels.

The commission also pulled back some language that dealt with the credit time that offenders can earn toward early release while in prison, and also pulled some of the proposed changes on how habitual offenders are sentenced. Those issues will have to be left for legislators to hammer out in the next legislative session, which begins in January.

But the commission pushed forward on some other critical areas: recommending that Indiana do away with its punitive “drug-free” zones that ratchet up prison terms and reducing a low-level theft from a felony to a misdemeanor.

State Sen. Richard Bray, a Republican commission member who’s retiring from the legislature after 38 years, said he wished the commission had come to consensus on all issues. But he also called the draft legislation that was approved by the commission on Wednesday “remarkable.” 

“This all had been dead in the water,” said Bray, who had been part a failed sentencing reform effort in the 2010 session that was aimed at reducing the number of offenders in Indiana’s prisons. “It’s a credit to the commission that we’ve come this far.”

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