On July 1, 2014, more than 200 new laws were added to the Indiana Criminal Code.
After six previous years of Statehouse proposals, study committees and debate, economics finally had caught up with the push by politicians to get tough on crime.
People who commit the most violent of crimes today are serving longer prison sentences. Fewer people who are convicted of low-level felonies are being sentenced to prison.
The result was easily foreseen: Counties are seeing huge spikes in non-violent offenders, who until recently would’ve been serving years within the Indiana Department of Correction.
Now our jails are struggling to make room for local inmates and keep up with the costs to house them.
That was before COVID-19. Because of the virus’ effect on the economy, Ball State economist Michael Hicks predicts about a third of local governments in Indiana will face a 4% drop in tax collections.
A report from the Pew Center for the States in 2010 found Indiana’s state prison population had grown by 41% from 2000 to 2008.
To reverse the trend, then-Gov. Mitch Daniels and a number of Indiana lawmakers proposed reforms they said would create a more precise set of drug and theft sentencing laws that would give judges more options.
Many of these proposals finally were adopted in 2014. But the reforms didn’t include funding to improve probation, parole and treatment programs on the county level.
Lawmakers addressed that oversight in the 2015 legislative session, providing $116 million for community corrections and increasing funding for mental health and addiction treatment by $30 million.
This past legislative session, Senate Bill 120 and House Bill 1622 would’ve raised the state’s reimbursement rate from $35 per inmate to $55.
Neither made it out of committee. Rep. Ryan Lauer, R-Columbus, told his local newspaper he and his colleagues inserted into the state budget bill language that would raise the reimbursement rate to $37.50 per day this fiscal year and $40 per day in 2021.
The criminal code reforms of 2014 put the state of Indiana on the right track economically.
But over the last six years, they only have pushed the expense of corrections onto counties. They need relief. Next session, if possible.