Indiana criminal code to dramatically change July 1

INDIANAPOLIS - Indiana's criminal code will change dramatically starting July 1 and the changes could impact the state's public safety and the pockets of Hoosier taxpayers.

Over the past decade, the state's prison population has grown by 40-percent. And without change to the penal code officials say, in three years, the cost of incarceration will grow to more than $1 billion annually. Cost has driven legislative change to the criminal code, RTV6's Jack Rinehart reports.

Department of Correction Spokesman Doug Garrison said his agency is trying to prevent the prison population from growing. 

"The intent of the legislation is to see incarcerations go down so that the Department of Correction doesn't have to build more facilities to house more men and women," Garrison said.

The biggest change to the criminal code reduces so-called "good time," requiring offenders to serve 75-percent of their prison term instead of 50-percent.

The most sweeping reform, according to Marion County Prosecutor Terry Curry, comes in the form of sentences for drug offenses. Convictions for dealing, possessing and manufacturing controlled substances will mean lighter sentences.

"To the extent that it's apparent that drug offenses drive other crimes, we feel that the general reduction for drug offenses was not appropriate," Curry said.

On July 1, the state's prisons will no longer accept D-felony or low-level offenders. Instead, they will go to county jails. With 75-percent of Indiana's county jails understaffed and another 35-percent over capacity, the state's sheriffs have expressed concern about the strain on local resources.

Executive Director of Indiana Sheriff's Association Steve Luce said those factors hold a lot of people responsible.

"With an increased population, that brings a huge liability not only to the Sheriff, but the commissioners, to the councilmen and the citizens that pay the taxes," Luce said.

Penalties for serious violent offenses remain virtually intact with offenders now having to serve 75-percent of their sentences instead of just half. For the victims of violent crime, longer sentences won't mean a lot.

"They're going to continue to have to spend a lot of time working through the event. They're never going to have closure for it. It's always going to be part of that. It's always going to be there for them," said Michael Hurst, executive director for Legacy House.

The new code will require careful tracking and only time will tell if the changes will be successful.

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