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Opinion

January 30, 2014

THEIR VIEW: Criminal code may be off target

In America, more than in any other country, our answer to crime is to lock perpetrators behind bars.

At the end of 2012, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, 1.571 million people were incarcerated in the United States. Another way to look at it: 716 of every 100,000 Americans were locked up, according to the International Centre for Prison Studies.

That’s by far the highest rate in the world, with St. Kitts and Nevis a distant second at 649 incarcerated per 100,000 population.

In Indiana, we’re willing contributors to the lock-up mania. Indiana’s prison population is about 30,000, and we’re adding more new prisoners each year. Last year, the number of new admissions to the prison system surged by 9 percent.

A major revision of Indiana’s criminal code, including a major overhaul of the felony code of 1977, is set to take effect in July. One of the aims of the revision is to reduce the number of Hoosier behind bars, with a renewed focus on rehabilitation.

But many prosecutors, law enforcement officials and state lawmakers have major misgivings about the code revision. They worry that it will put drug dealers back on the street, place the financial burden of offender rehabilitation more squarely on local communities and actually increase the state’ prison population.

Applied Research Services, at the behest of state legislators, analyzed the prospective impact of the criminal code revision. According to ARS, the state’s prison population would likely increase to about 35,500 by 2024. ARS also studied potential prison growth if the current Indiana criminal code were kept, and estimated the 2024 prison population at about 34,000.

Earlier studies by the Indiana Department of Correction and the Legislative Services Agency anticipated Indiana’s prison population, with the new criminal code in effect, would remain flat or decrease as the years pass.

While the criminal code revision would reduce prison sentences for some low-level drug offenses in favor of more rehabilitation efforts, it would also require many prisoners to spend at least 75 percent of their sentence locked up. Currently, many convicts are released, on good behavior, after they’ve served 50 percent of their sentence.

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