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Indiana Rethinks its Sentencing Policies for Drug and Property Offenses

| December 20, 2010

Some bizarre statistics about Indiana emerged from a joint study that was released last week by the Council of State Governments (CSG) and the Pew Center on the States.  For example, the average sentence in the Hoosier state for many non-violent crimes is 96 months, but the average sentence for sexual assault is only 65 months.  The study, which calculated that Indiana’s prison population has grown by more than 40% in the past 10 years (three times faster than any neighboring state) has received widespread coverage.  CSG and Pew have recommended several ways in which Indiana could reduce its overcrowded prison population and tamp down on costs that are projected to reach $1 billion by 2017.

One of the most significant recommendations in the study is to reform Indiana’s unusual sentencing laws for non-violent offenses.  The essential problem with the laws is that they do not adequately distinguish between differences in severity.  Thus, according to the Indiana Journal Gazette, “Someone who steals a $20 DVD can be charged with the same level of felony as a person who steals thousands of dollars’ worth of items.”  CSG and Pew recommend a system of graduated sentencing and returning some sentencing discretion to judges who are hamstrung by mandatory minimum sentencing laws.

“Every significant aspect of law enforcement and criminal justice has been brought together in this project,” said Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels. “We have hoped for a package of changes that will bring more certain and firm punishments to the worst offenders in Indiana, more sensible, smarter incarceration for those who pose much less of a danger to Hoosiers and, as a byproduct of that, grace to taxpayers in the form of lower costs in the years ahead. I am thrilled to say that this group has brought about such a product and I am happy to pass it on to the General Assembly with my strongest endorsement.”

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