Prison inmates would serve more time under bill that would cut back on credits for good behavior

Bill would expand number of felony categories

INDIANAPOLIS - State legislators are preparing to vote on a major revamp of Indiana's criminal sentencing laws. 

Sponsors said the bill would strengthen sentences for the most dangerous criminals and also make sure everyone who goes to prison will serve a longer portion of their sentences. 

The new crime bill would change the sentences for many offenses, but its biggest impact would be forcing criminals to actually serve a longer portion of that time behind bars.

The bill would replace the current system of four different felony classes with six different levels.

Murder would continue as its own separate level.

Sponsors said people committing the most serious crimes would have longer sentences.

"The worst of the worst. The credit-enhanced felonies such as murderers, child molesters, rapists," said Rep. Gregory Steuerwald, R-Avon.

Those at the other end, the non-violent offenders, would be steered into what supporters describe as intensive probation programs designed to get them off substance abuse problems or other bad habits and keep them from becoming repeat offenders.

Rep. Linda Lawson, D-Hammond, a retired police officer, said it's those people who consume much of an officer's time and divert police resources from more serious crime. 

"Officers are kind of chasing their tail," Lawson said. "You know, someone gets out of jail, and they haven't gone through rehab. They haven't gotten the treatment they needed. They're back on the street. They're robbing you. They're burglarizing your garage, coming into your house. They get arrested again."

But the biggest impact to many people would be the change in credit time.

Inmates currently get one day off their sentences for every day of good behavior, which can turn a 40-year sentence into 20 years.

This bill would change that ratio to three to one, so the inmate would have to serve 30 of the 40 years.

"The goal is certainty in sentencing,” said Steuerwald. “So courts, prosecutors, public defenders, but most essentially, the victims, know exactly, have a better idea of exactly what the perpetrator will serve."

Reporters questioned sponsors about whether this bill would put more strain on the state's prison system, but they said the net effect would be fewer inmates behind bars, which would save the state money. 

The full House must vote on the bill by Monday.


Follow Norman Cox on Twitter: @normancox6

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