A missed chance for criminal justice reform - Indianapolis Recorder Newspaper: Home

default avatar
Welcome to the site! Login or Signup below.
Not you?||
Logout|My Dashboard

A missed chance for criminal justice reform

Font Size:
Default font size
Larger font size

Posted: Thursday, April 28, 2011 12:40 pm

As the legislative session comes to a close this week, Indiana missed an important opportunity to save billions in taxpayer dollars and establish ourselves as a leader in criminal justice reform. Instead of standing up for what's right for all Indiana residents, our lawmakers gave in to the fear-driven politics of a special interest group by rejecting a plan that would have drastically reduced corrections spending and improved our public safety.

When Gov. Mitch Daniels unveiled his prison reform plan in January, all eyes were on Indiana to pave the way toward smart corrections reform that would ease our budget woes. Daniels' plan aimed to free up prison space for those who pose the greatest threat to public safety and save more than $1 billion in the process. When introduced in the Senate in its original incarnation, Senate Bill 561 aligned with Daniels' intentions and was a unique example of bipartisan collaboration.

But any chance for meaningful reform this year was lost because legislators allowed county prosecutors to exploit their political anxieties with fearful rhetoric about the bill not being "tough on crime." The Senate was persuaded by prosecutors to pass an amended version of the bill that turned the governor's proposal on its head. The amended version would have prevented people from exiting prison even after they had shown they could successfully reenter society without posing a threat to public safety. Had the amended version become law, we would have had to build three new prisons, at a cost of $210 million each with an additional $48 million a year in operating costs.

Daniels rightfully announced he would veto such a costly and ineffective mess. But when the amended version of SB 561 moved over to the House earlier this month, our representatives let it die rather than changing it back to the original version and sending the governor a viable bill.

The tragedy is that evidence and reason prove the governor's proposal was in no way soft on crime. All this talk about being "tough on crime" is nothing more than empty rhetoric when it means blindly doling out lengthy prison sentences for people who simply don't need them. In fact, such an approach is both unreasonable and tough on taxpayer dollars. There is simply no reason to unnecessarily keep people locked up. Across the board, research shows that alternatives to prison not only cost significantly less than prison time, but also ensure lower rates of recidivism.

Indiana already spends $670 million annually on corrections. In a time of financial crisis, it is senseless to waste precious resources on policies that we know are ineffective. Some states have already recognized this reality. Texas, for example, reformed its prison system by expanding the use of drug and mental health treatment, reduced its prison population and saw a 10 percent drop in crime. Mississippi also revamped its laws requiring individuals to serve unnecessarily lengthy sentences, and now allows them to be paroled when they no longer pose a public safety risk. Efforts like these have gained the support of notable conservatives like Newt Gingrich, who have launched the conservative "Right on Crime" campaign calling for reduced reliance on prisons.

It is deeply disturbing that our lawmakers, when presented with this truth, allowed themselves to be co-opted by prosecutors, ultimately making a fiscally irresponsible decision that will affect future generations of Indianan residents. As our Legislature closes its doors, we must now cross our collective fingers and hope that next year our lawmakers come to their senses. If they are serious about closing our deficit and reducing wasteful spending in Indiana, they must introduce a bill in 2012 that models the governor's original vision and vote it into law.

Gilbert Holmes is executive director of the ACLU of Indiana.


© 2015 Indianapolis Recorder Newspaper. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

  • Discuss

Welcome to the discussion.


  • George Ward posted at 7:33 pm on Sun, Jul 15, 2012.

    George Ward Posts: 1

    Here's a perfect example of treatment vs sentencing. This is a copy of my post on Indianapolis Star blog....George Ward. This is our current situation and horror.

    NEED HELP/ADVICE/ADVOCACY + more info at end - In brief, my 30 yr old son suffers from Fetal Alcohol Syndrome / Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder. This is documented. He is Black (my ex-wife and I are Caucasian. Adopted him and older sibling from foster care at ages 2 and 3. Ex and I on good terms). My son, Terrance Ward, is currently in Whitley County jail facing 2 class A felonies for manufacture and attempt to distribute meth. Many more details. Understand state is responsible for care of FAS sufferers in life skills, training, etc. One primary symptom of FAS is poor decision making abilities. NEED HELP / ADVICE / ADVOCACY / REPRESENTATION. Facing 40-75 yrs. Needs treatment not time. Trial set for Aug 6 2012. He refused public defender and wants to rep himself. Typical FAS response. Please advise.
    260-585-5963 (cell-leave voice mail) Dad = George Ward, Lagrange, IN 46761 Mom = Dorothy Arick, Columbia City, IN

  • Dennis Graham posted at 1:49 pm on Fri, Jul 29, 2011.

    Dennis Graham Posts: 1

    We shouldn't only be tough on crime but expect our police to set the exampe of citizenry. We have been bombarded by the media (and thankfully so) with story after story of police officers commiting crimes, what about the ones that are not getting reported? I am talking about false statements by police officers during a criminal investigation, statements that are nothing more than out and out lies to protect another officer from prosecution. I am talking about the conduct of the officers who went to the Southeastern Medical Clinic and stated Bisard was there for testing because he killed a police dog. Not the truth!! He killed a motorist and they knew exactly that! In most states it would be considered a misprison of a felony. Because they knew if they told the truth, the technician there would have called her supervisor an RN to do the blood draw as required by law.


Big Freedia

Big Freedia and dancers perform "Explode"

More Featured Videos