Indiana could cut prison population

Indiana may be on the way to cutting its prison population
Posted on April 17, 2013 at 1:00 a.m. | Updated on April 17, 2013 at 6:22 p.m.

Recent editorials published in Indiana newspapersL

Evansville Courier & Press:

A campaign that started more than two years ago to reduce the number of nonviolent offenders taking up space in Indiana prisons may be headed for success.

The Indiana Senate voted 46-4 on Wednesday in favor of an overhaul of state criminal sentencing laws, and now goes back to the Indiana House, which has approved another version of the bill, reports The Associated Press. If the two houses of the Legislature can now agree on the same language, Indiana could be on the way to reducing its prison population.

This traces back to recommendations by the Pew Center on the States and the Council of State Governments Justice Center that Indiana reduce the number of individuals in prison because they are guilty of low-level thefts and drug offenses. The AP report said a state analysis projects that the change in sentencing laws would prevent the need for more state prison space for at least 10 years.

A similar legislative effort failed last year, due in part to strong opposition from Indiana prosecutors who felt that passage of that version constituted being soft on crime. But this year, state prosecutors are supporting the new version of the bill.

As well, it merits the support of taxpayers who are weary of being among the nation’s leaders in paying to house criminals, regardless of the seriousness of their crime.

The Fort Wayne Journal Gazette:

Budgets, the Indiana Coalition for Human Services reminds us, are moral as well as financial documents. The group, which advocates on behalf of social service agencies, delivers a harsh assessment of the Indiana Senate’s proposed budget, but it’s worth noting as legislative leaders prepare to hammer out the final two-year spending plan.

Fiscal policies that will give all Hoosiers the opportunity to succeed while ensuring adequate services for those who need assistance — in education, health care or simply to survive — are critical.

The budget proposal from the Senate majority places more emphasis on cutting spending than on serving those residents, but it’s not without some merit if you subscribe to the theory that money left in taxpayers’ hands will do more to help all Hoosiers’ economic well-being.

The proposed budget is particularly good for transportation, a jobs measure in its own right.

Fort Wayne Republican Tom Wyss, chairman of the Senate’s Homeland Security, Transportation and Veterans Affairs Committee, said the proposal seeks to address a looming shortfall in road and highway funding.

Like the House proposal, the Senate’s budget wisely moves funding for the Indiana State Police and Bureau of Motor Vehicles to the general fund budget and frees up excise tax dollars for transportation projects.

“That will release a ton more money — about $112 million for the state, $101 million for local governments,” Wyss said. “We do put some caveats in there. For the counties to be able to access this, they have to implement a wheel tax.”

Wyss, who was a county councilman when Allen County adopted a wheel tax, said the provision was a fair expectation for local government officials seeking more state support for infrastructure. More than half of Indiana’s 92 counties have yet to adopt a wheel tax.

The Senate version of the budget also creates the Major Moves Trust Fund, allocating $400 million over the next two years for major highway expansion projects.

Budget leader Luke Kenley, a Noblesville Republican, calls the spending plan “an opportunity budget” — a chance to address past problems and plan ahead. What sort of opportunity it offers to Hoosiers overall should be the focus as the session deadline nears.

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