INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — A plan pushed by Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels aimed at
reducing Indiana’s prison crowding by easing penalties for low-level
offenders appears dead in the Legislature after running into stiff
opposition from county prosecutors.
Daniels had made revamping of the criminal sentencing laws one of his top
priorities for this year’s legislative session, but lawmakers handling the
bill said Tuesday they hadn’t been able to reach a compromise and didn’t
expect more action before the General Assembly’s April 29 adjournment
Senate Corrections Committee Chairman Brent Steele, R-Bedford, said that
opposition from prosecutors, police chiefs and sheriffs doomed the proposal
“Without those groups buying into it, it wasn’t going to pass,” Steele said.
“That’s the political reality.”
Daniels had threatened to veto the bill after the Senate added provisions to
require those convicted of the most serious crimes to serve at least 85
percent of the sentence ordered by a judge. The governor said he was
concerned about increased costs from changing current law that allows most
inmates to be released after serving half their sentence if they don’t get
into trouble while in prison.
Daniels spokeswoman Jane Jankowski said the original plan “was very well
thought out and researched” but dealt mainly with low-level offenders, and
once lawmakers broadened that concept, more research was needed to gauge the
“Ultimately, the decision has been made that it’s more important to get it
right,” she said. “We’ve got to get those numbers right so we can fold it
all together and come back next year with a more comprehensive approach.”
The bill — based on recommendations from the Pew Center on the States and
the Council of State Governments Justice Center — originally envisioned
reducing the time many low-level offenders like thieves and drug dealers
would spend in prison and shifting many into alternative programs like
probation. State officials estimated it could save $1.2 billion in new
prison construction over the next seven years.
But prosecutors said the bill was too soft on crime, and pushed for the
tougher sentencing provisions approved by the Senate.
Ohio-Dearborn County Prosecutor Aaron Negangard, chairman of the Indiana
Prosecuting Attorneys Council, said he was glad the sentencing changes would
be considered by a state commission conducting a full review of the criminal
“We were in favor of the more balanced approach that came out of the Senate
but thought the bill still had a lot more work that needed to be done with
it,” Negangard said.
Bill sponsor Rep. Ralph Foley, R-Martinsville, had tried to reach a
compromise on the plan, but gave up that effort without a House committee
even taking a vote.
He said he hoped the criminal code review commission could come up with an
acceptable plan for legislators to consider next year.
“Taxpayers aren’t in favor of building new prisons and raising taxes for
them — even if they are in favor of throwing prisoners in jail and throwing
the key away,” Foley said.
The failure to reach agreement on a plan disappointed Larry Landis,
executive director of the Indiana Public Defenders Council.
“It means prison growth will continue unabated, spiraling costs which means
down the road we have to build more prisons,” Landis said. “If we do, that
means either a tax increase or you have to significantly cut other services
the state provides.”
Steele, the Senate committee chairman, said he hoped more time studying
possible sentencing changes would give lawmakers better information on the
impact to prison population and costs to the state.
“What we’ve gotten so far has just been pitiful as far as getting a clear
picture of where we stand,” Steele said.