Criminal Code Overhaul Turns To Paying For Reforms
February 10, 2014 — Indiana Public Broadcasting —
Indiana is in the middle of a major overhaul of its criminal code. One of the main objectives is to keep low-level offenders out of prison by giving them more options for treatment and rehabilitation at a local level. As Indiana Public Broadcasting’s Jimmy Jenkins reports, legislators now face the tough task of implementing these potentially costly reforms without any additional revenue.
At her criminal court in Indianapolis, Judge Barbara Cook Crawford sees low level offenders accused of drug possession and theft every day. She sentences the majority of them to either probation or community corrections programs.
“Because the whole point of all of this is that people don’t end up back into the system again. If they commit a crime – fine. But let’s get them through the system, get them into a program so that we do not see them again.”
Lawmakers say local options are not only more effective at reducing recidivism – they’re also cheaper.
Months of interim study committees failed to result in a consensus as to whether the criminal code changes will actually increase or decrease the state’s prison population.
One thing everyone could agree on is that more programs, and therefore more funding, will be needed in the short term to prepare local institutions for an influx of offenders who normally would have gone to the state-run Department of Corrections. But in this short legislative session, appropriating additional dollars is highly unlikely:
“Fiscal people tend to look at these a little differently and we’re going to say ‘Ok, what new programs are you putting in here? How can they be delivered?’”
Meaning how can they be paid for. Speaking on the floor of the Senate at the beginning of this year’s session, Appropriations chairman Luke Kenley said he supports the findings of the study committees – but he challenged them to find ways to save the DOC money so it could be re-directed into new and enhanced local programming.
“A lot of counties have both a probation department and a community corrections department. Why should you have two of these entities in a county? So, can we consolidate this and help offset some of the costs in that way?”
Senator Michael Young responded to Kenley’s challenge by crafting Senate Bill 171, which would have established a pilot program in Marion County that would consolidate probation and community corrections into one entity.
That suggestion ignited opponents.
As Vice Chairman for the Marion County Community Corrections Advisory Board, Judge Cook Crawford takes issue with the notion that the two agencies perform similar tasks.
She says probation and community corrections are inherently different. If an offender is sentenced to probation:
“ His life remains the same except he has to follow certain rules. He has to report to a probation officer periodically – that kind of thing – take drug tests maybe – there are certain conditions placed on it but his liberty is not restricted.”
If an offender is sentenced to a community corrections center – the process is can be much more intense. The offender is usually subject to electronic monitoring or in some cases confined to a work release center.
Cook Crawford says there are more than 40,000 people who go through the criminal justice system in Marion County each year – and consolidation would be a massive undertaking.
“At first I didn’t understand the use of the term pilot project, because its being done already, in other counties.”
That’s Monroe County Chief Probation officer Linda Brady. She presides over a system that’s already consolidated – and has been for 30 years. Monroe is one of nine counties in the state that has already unified its probation and community correction departments.
“We’re able to share one receptionist, we’re able to share one person that collects the money, one chief probation officer – we just share resources with one another and share expertise and share training . . . “
While she supported the initial legislation, Brady says she understands a forced consolidation might not work for everyone.
Brady is the head of a statewide association of Probation Officers. From her office in Bloomington, she hears from her colleagues throughout the state:
“For example I just talked to the chief probation officer in a county where community correction and probation are completely separate and she told me they’re happy that way.
In response to the testimony and pushback from criminal justice officials, Senator Young changed the language of Senate bill 171.
“Well, my response is – you get to write the plan. Do it however you think works. We’re not telling you how you have to write it – we’re just saying there’s certain criteria you have to meet, but you write it the way you think it works best based on best practices and the evidence that shows that these things work in cutting recidivism and controlling our prison population while they’re back at home.”
Instead of forced consolidation, the bill now requires collaboration. It gives counties 3 years to come up with a plan for their probation and community corrections departments to cooperate on cost saving measures before they can apply for additional funding from the state. For Indiana Public Broadcasting, I’m Jimmy Jenkins.