Prosecutors Speak out on Indiana Justice


It is imperative to Indiana’s Prosecutors that any revision of the Criminal Code be comprehensive and balanced. Governor Daniels agreed with us. In fact, Governor Daniels stated that the sentencing reform proposal would provide “certain and firm punishment for the worst offenders.” Unfortunately, the original bill was neither comprehensive nor balanced. Nor did it provide any “certain and firm punishment for the worst offender.” In its original form it was simply soft-on-crime sentence reduction legislation. In Indiana, a person who beats a child to death will serve an average sentence of 5.1 years in prison. Indiana has more prison time reductions than any other state in the nation. Indiana’s Prosecutors were at the forefront of the creation of the Criminal Code Evaluation Committee created by the Indiana General Assembly whose mission was to conduct a comprehensive review of the Criminal Code, and to make recommendations for improving, enhancing, and streamlining criminal justice in Indiana.
According to the Legislative Services Agency, the average sentence given by an Indiana judge to a Class A felony child molester is 41 years of incarceration. Yet, the average actual time served for that same Class A child molester is 7.5 years. For a non-capital murder charge, the range of sentence under Indiana law is 45 to 65 years. However, the average actual time served for a non-capital murderer in the State of Indiana is 16 years. For Rape the range of possible incarceration is 6 to 20 years. Yet, the average actual time served for raping a woman in the State of Indiana is 3 ½ years. This disparity between the court ordered sentence for serious felony crimes and the significantly reduced actual time served upon conviction of these crimes is indicative of a substantial flaw in our Indiana criminal justice system that works as a disservice to the victims of crime and a failure of public safety confidence in the “truth” of Indiana’s sentencing laws.

The Criminal Code Evaluation Committee had been expected to look at these and other significant issues in a detailed and comprehensive manner and provide thoughtful guidance to the Indiana General Assembly over the future course of criminal justice in Indiana. However, what appropriately began as a comprehensive systemic review toward comprehensive reform has turned into a budgetary boondoggle in the name of crisis management.

The crisis? Suddenly in 2010, the citizens of Indiana were being told that the Indiana Department of Correction is beyond capacity and climbing at a rate higher than any other state in the nation. Suddenly, there is no time to devote to comprehensive reform as this crisis is so acute the need for a quick fix takes priority over comprehensive reform.

This crisis of an overcrowded DOC was not evident a few short years ago when the Administration contracted with California and Arizona to rent some 1,200 beds to those states to help solve their overcrowded conditions. Apparently, Indiana prisons had the space to spare and the deal was hailed as a clever way in which to raise revenue by the Administration. Unfortunately, those California and Arizona inmates rioted, and the deal was cancelled.

Senate Bill 561 ostensibly packaged as “justice reinvestment,” was based upon the Council of State Governments dire predictions that Indiana was going to need to build more prisons now unless we reduced the number of felons going to the Department of Correction and reduce the amount of years they spend there. The truth is the prison population has remained essentially stable over the last 4 years. On February 1, 2011, the Indiana prison population was 26,873, which was exactly the same as it was on February 1, 2010. On February 1, 2009, it was 26,663 and the number February 1, 2008, 26,299. This represents a 2.1% increase since 2008. The Pew Center on States, issued a 2009 report that Indiana ranks 8th in the nation for persons under parole or supervision and ranks 30th in nation for persons in prison. That same report indicated from 2006 to 2008 the increase in Indiana’s prison population was .6% and Kentucky was the highest at 12%.

The data cited by the Council of State Governments to support that there was a crisis inappropriately relied on numbers from the Bureau of Justice Statistics, which included federal prisoners held in the State of Indiana. Federal prisoners have no relevance to the Indiana state prison population and the inclusion of those numbers for purposes of evaluating Indiana state prison population has resulted in a gross exaggeration of the data to support its conclusion that our state prison population is exploding. Indiana should not risk public safety based on exaggerated statistics designed to manufacture a crisis.

The chief mechanism offered by the Council of State Governments for solving this “crisis” of too many inmates in the DOC is the recommendation that Indiana substantially reduce the penalty for selling drugs. Therefore, rather than proceed to comprehensive reform, Indiana will simply redefine what it means to be a drug dealer. Indiana will make it more difficult and costly for law enforcement to catch drug dealers and will release them earlier if law enforcement does catch them.
This “solution” as proposed under the original submission of Senate Bill 561 is magnified by the immense complexity of illegal drugs in our communities. Most conservative estimates cite illegal drugs as playing a significant role in 70% of all criminal activity, including murder, armed robbery, residential burglaries, and domestic violence to name a few.

Although we support comprehensive reform, Indiana Prosecutors offered revisions to the bill that still reclassified certain offenses and provided budgetary relief. However, our proposed amendments also addressed the worst of the worst felons by shutting the revolving door that exposes our community to the most dangerous and violent criminals well before they have served the full and appropriate measure of their sentence. In fact, the Pew Center agrees. Their March 2009 report stated “serious, chronic, and violent offenders belong behind bars, for a long time, and the expense of locking them up is justified many times over.” There are many lawmakers who have recognized this and are working to provide a more balanced bill.

Indiana’s Prosecutors were recently maligned as a “special interest” group and it was suggested that the committee of Prosecutors that have been working to improve this legislation with lawmakers are but a vocal few who do not represent “most” Prosecutors. Well, it is true that we don’t represent “most” Prosecutors. We represent all 91 elected Prosecuting Attorneys in the State of Indiana. All 91 who are fully informed and fully engaged in this threat to public safety emanating from a so-called crisis and diverting all attention away from the much needed reform that will provide citizens of Indiana with a fair and proportional system. We are proud of the “special interest” group we represent. The “special interests” of victims of crimes. The “special interests” of women and children. The “special interests” of the elderly. The “special interests” of law abiding citizens and anyone who expects justice to be done. Indiana’s Prosecutors recognize and understand the impact of criminal justice policy as it plays out daily on our streets and in our courts.

The original sentencing reform proposal was a threat to public safety. The amendments we have suggested are fair, reasonable, cost effective and most importantly protect the public. Indiana Prosecutors will continue to work with and support the lawmakers when they get it right and we will oppose all when they get it wrong. All in the interest of justice.

Association of Indiana Prosecuting Attorneys, Inc.
Jim Luttrull, Grant County Prosecutor
Aaron Negangard, Dearborn and Ohio County Prosecutor
Curtis Hill, Elkhart County Prosecutor
Keith Henderson, Floyd County Prosecutor