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Prison plan smarter, saves money

Gov. Mitch Daniels last month strongly endorsed much-needed changes to Indiana’s prison sentencing laws, which could save the state $1.2 billion in the next seven years.
Indiana’s prison population has reached about 29,000 inmates and has grown three times faster than any of its neighboring states during the past 10 years. Daniels said the savings can be spent on new prison space and operating costs.
While we don’t have a prison in Harrison County, the overcrowding of our jail has been an issue. Former Sheriff G. Michael Deatrick turned away state prisoners, which, in the past, has made the county some $400,000 or more, because the jail became too crowded with regular inmates.
Obviously, we can’t just unlock the doors and let the offenders loose, but, if approved, recommendations from the Pew Center on the States and the Council of State Governments Justice Center will mean more certain and firm punishment to the worst offenders in Indiana, more sensible, smarter incarceration for those who pose much less of a physical danger to Hoosiers. Some of the current insensible laws include (as reported in last week’s newspaper on page A2): The average sentence for sexual assault is about five years, while the average sentence for selling drugs is eight years. Stealing a $5 DVD is considered felony theft, the same as stealing a $5,000 ring. The sentence for selling three grams of cocaine is the same as selling 3,000 grams.
And, as a byproduct of the governor’s plan, there would be grace for taxpayers in the sense of lower costs in the years ahead, according to Daniels.
The plan will reserve prison space for the worst offenders by creating a more precise set of drug and theft sentencing laws and providing judges with more sentencing options for those who commit less serious felony offenses. Basically, Indiana judges have been giving harsher punishments for low-level crimes when compared to other states.
The state’s good-time credit rules that allow inmates to reduce how much time they spend behind bars will not be eliminated with the new changes.
Daniels’ plan will most likely save money, but, more importantly, it will better align the crime with the punishment. Hopefully, it will create a more fair justice system while making the tough decisions a little less difficult for judges.