Hendricks County Flyer, Avon, IN

Commentary

January 21, 2013

Rewriting Indiana's outdated criminal code

Rewriting Indiana's Criminal Code is an issue that my colleagues and I have spent years analyzing. The code has been enhanced in the past, but there has not been a significant overhaul since 1977. I believe that the time has come to change that and provide Hoosiers with an appropriate, updated criminal code.

In 2009, the Criminal Code Evaluation Commission (CCEC) was created and charged with the task of "evaluating the criminal laws of Indiana." I was a member of this commission, which was composed of elected officials and a number of experts in the criminal justice field. From March 2011 to July 2012, the CCEC met more than 43 times to discuss the merits of the criminal code and possible revisions.

The guiding principles that the commission strived to achieve in rewriting Indiana's Criminal Code included the following: consistency, proportionality, like-sentences for like-crimes, new criminal penalties and sentencing schemes designed to keep dangerous offenders in prison, but avoid using scarce prison space for non-violent offenders.

Before I was a lawyer, I served two years as a certified probation officer with the State of Indiana Department of Corrections. During my time in that position, and in my current position, I witnessed the need to restructure our current system. One of the biggest issues facing our judicial system is correct sentencing policies, which is causing violent offenders to be released early.

With 28,378 inmates housed in the Indiana Department of Corrections, an estimated 15,000 are being held solely on Class D felonies. The cost per day to house an inmate is $56.88 per day. The proposed criminal code revisions, as recommended by the commission, will create a way for the state to cut state prison costs, while providing a sentence grid that applies a more specific sentence to criminal offenses.

There are four classes of felonies in our current criminal code (Classes A-D). The changes that the CCEC recommended would expand the four classes to six by dividing Class A and Class B into two parts. Murder will be its own separate classification. As proposed, all criminal defendants sentenced to the Department of Corrections will serve 75 percent of their sentence as opposed to 50 percent served under the current criminal code. The recommendations from the commission to the General Assembly will become effective July of 2014.

As we move forward this session, it is imperative that the issue of rewriting Indiana's Criminal Code remain a priority. These changes will make Indiana's laws work for Hoosiers, creating a safer and more responsible state.

- Greg Steuerwald is state representative for House District 40, which includes Hendricks County.

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