Archive for April, 2011

April 20, 2011

Note to Indiana Legislators – pass sentencing reform

Dear Indiana legislator:

With the potential to save $180 million per annum it would be fiscally irresponsible for the legislature to not pass meaningful sentencing reform in 2011.  S561 had broad bipartisan support until the prosecutors threw a wrench into the works.  The prosecutors have brought up no new information to raise serious doubts about the merit of this Bill.  Their concerns are certainly warranted but these concerns are beyond the sentencing study that led to S561.  These concerns should be studied in depth in the next legislative session.

How can the taxpayers of Indiana stand on the sidelines and let their legislature fail to pass legislation that has broad bipartisan support? 

What do your prefer?  

  • Cut vital services such as the education budget and fire hundreds of additional teachers by putting more people into prison? 
  • Or pass sentencing reform  to keep more non-violent offenders out of prison  and  address their offenses more effectively  using drug court, work release and community corrections at much lower cost?

See open letter to Governor Mitch Daniels below.

Vid Beldavs, Board Member / Newsletter Editor
Indiana C.U.R.E.


April 15, 2011

Mitch Daniels

Indianapolis, Indiana 46204-2797

Dear Governor Daniels:

Thank you for your leadership in sentencing reform for Indiana!  There are few comparable opportunities for major cuts in government spending that also bring multiple benefits including the potential for significant reduction in crime with increased chances for successful reentry to society for thousands of offenders.  Senate Bill 561 is solid, well thought out legislation that should be passed in this legislative session.  We are in a budget crisis and must make every effort to cut government spending where the cuts don’t damage other priorities.

The opposition to S561 by the prosecutors is extremely disappointing.  The sentencing study that you initiated involved all affected groups other than the offenders themselves and their families (Indiana C.U.R.E. represents this constituency).  Two of the most highly regarded policy research organizations in the country were involved to assist in the study.  The Pew Center on the States and the Council of State Governments (CSG) have a track record of success.  Prosecutors and other key stakeholders were all at the table and had numerous opportunities for input.  The study also addressed the low hanging fruit – non-violent offenders that comprise much of the prison population.  Review of sentencing for violent offenders was not included in the scope of the study.  I assume this is largely due to the need to keep such offenders in prison and that there are far fewer of them than there are of less serious offenders.  There was no opportunity to cut spending by reform of sentencing laws for predatory criminals.  The prosecutors knew that the focus of the study and the legislation was non-violent offenders.  

None of the arguments presented by the prosecutors addressed the intent of S561.  “Truth in sentencing” is a highly controversial position that has no currency in the research literature.  Corrections is opposed to mandatory sentences with no opportunities for time cuts because then prisons become harder to manage with increased problems and costs.  .  It is much more effective to be able to reward the prisoner for good behavior than to say no matter how much you improve to turn your life around you still will have to serve your full sentence.  Even if a prisoner is released before serving his full sentence he is still under corrections control and can be violated at any time and returned to prison to serve his full sentence.

The prosecutors also attacked the potential for savings claimed by the study by saying the prison count was off and that additional capacity is not likely to be needed even if the bill were not passed..  First, whether the forecast of $1.2 billion savings is high or low does not weaken the policy framework recommended by Pew and CSG.  Indiana puts too many non-violent offenders in prison and such offenders can be dealt with at far less cost and far more effectively using community corrections, drug courts, work release and other tools.  There will be substantial savings to Indiana simply by cutting the number of prisoners. 

C.U.R.E. (Citizens United for the Rehabilitation of Errants) estimates are that excessive incarceration of non-violent offenders cost the state of Indiana approximately $1 billion in the 2000-2009 timeframe.  Our logic is that while crime rates were largely stable in that period incarceration increased by 7,190 more than it should have based on the actual increase in population during that time if the incarceration rate had remained proportionate to the rate of crime.  If we assume a cost of $25,000 per inmate per year this results in an annual cost of nearly $180 million per annum of excess costs.  Full implementation of the reforms including the investment in drug courts, work release, community corrections and other county-based programs could in a decade reduce the prison count by roughly the 7,190 excess.  While the total savings in the 2011-2017 period could be less than the $1.2 billion claimed earlier, it is still a very large reduction in corrections costs.  For more details see Attachment A: Increasing Incarceration of Prisoners in Indiana.

This brings us back to the need to pass S561.  If there are substantial savings if S561 is passed, then there would be substantial costs if it is not passed.  A factor to also bear in mind is that sentencing reforms are extremely unlikely to pass in an election year such as 2012.  Some legislators talk about passing a more “balanced” bill in 2012.  Elected officials are never elected by appearing to be lenient on crime. Reforms have the appearance of leniency to a large number of voters, if not to the vast majority.  Realistically, the next opportunity for reforms would be a two year delay – 2013 and not 2012.  Let’s assume that it takes 10 years to achieve the full benefit of the savings, i.e., $180 million per annum.  The first year will be slow but the second year should already start creating substantial savings.  Let’s assume a reduction of 500 the first year and 1,000 inmates the second year or $12,500,000 followed by $25,000,000 – fairly conservative estimates.  So even if we just reduce the number of prisoners by a small number we could see savings on the order of nearly $38 million by the end of 2013 if S561 were to be passed now.  Even if the savings were only $20 million that would still be worth a fight.  This should be understood by all legislators. 

The concerns of the prosecutors can be addressed with an in depth study that balances the obligation of the state to the reformation of prisoners with the need for public safety.  The Indiana Constitution mandates that prisoners are given the opportunity for reformation: Section 1, Article 18 – “The penal code shall be based on the principles of reformation and not vindictive justice.”  The “truth in sentencing” called for by the prosecutors would violate the Indiana Constitution.  There are many tools available to keep unreformed criminals from returning to society.  The corrections system would be the proper place to apply these tools rather than tying the hands of corrections with bad sentencing policy.  No doubt an in depth study of this problem will result in solutions acceptable to all parties.  Right now the priority is to save the Indiana taxpayer millions of dollars.

Vid Beldavs
Board Member / Newsletter Editor  Indiana C.U.R.E.
P.O. Box 62
Camby, IN  46113


Attachment A: Increasing Incarceration of Prisoners in Indiana

2000 to 2009

The FBI Uniform Crime Reports and the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) provide a basis to examine the impact of increasing the incarceration of prisoners in Indiana from 2000 to 2009.  Taxpayers are paying an extra estimated $180M annually in 2009 compared with 2000 due to increased rates of incarceration.  The cumulative burden of extra taxpayer costs of increased incarceration in Indiana has likely exceeded $1billion over the past decade. 

Has increased incarceration had any impact on crime rates and public safety in Indiana versus that of other states across the United States?  Anecdotal stories of individual offenders suggest that yes, additional incarceration has reduced crime.  Empirical evidence suggests this has not been the case.  In fact Indiana has not done as well as the average state in reducing the crimes rate over the past decade.

The facts: Indiana imprisoned 335 offenders per 100,000 citizens in 2000 and 447 offenders in 2009, an increase of 112 offenders annually per 100,000 citizens.  This is the second highest increase in the incarceration rate in the United States trailing only West Virginia.  With a 2009 population of 6,423,113, this implies that Indiana incarceration increased by 7,190 persons from 2000 to 2009 over and above what would have occurred with population growth.  At an estimated $25,000 per prisoner per year Indiana taxpayers paid an extra $180 million for incarceration of prisoners in 2009.

Index crime rates per 100,000 citizens between 2000 and 2009 declined by 11 percent for Indiana and by 16 percent for the 25 states headed by West Virginia and Indiana that raised their incarceration rate the most (by at least 20 offenders).  Ironically and, for some, surprisingly, Index crime rates per 100,000 citizens over the same period declined an identical 16 percent for the 25 states that decreased their incarceration rate (17 states) or had the lowest increases in incarceration rates per 100,000 citizens.  The FBI and BJS data do not reveal any major correlation between crime rates and imprisonment rates contrary to popular opinion.

Crime rates in Indiana and across the country have declined through effective targeted efforts by state and local police departments, protective defensive actions by citizens and the use of community based programs to improve lives of persons, including opportunities for young adult males.

Other factors include lower rates of drug addiction and reductions in the enforcement of laws relative to the use of drugs including marijuana.  Some states have implemented statutory changes through sentencing reform, reclassifying of some crimes from violent to non-violent status with resulting milder sentencing guidelines and easing of restrictions on earned sentence credits.  Other initiatives have included use of alternatives to incarceration for less serious criminal offenses and, for some crimes, the reduction of felonies to misdemeanors.

Reducing imprisonment can actually help stabilize many local neighborhoods and actually reduce crime by allowing wage earners and parents to remain in the community while dealing with criminal sanctions.  Many criminologists would argue that at best increased incarceration is one of the least effective methods of reducing crime rates.  For Indiana taxpayers increased incarceration is expensive but it may satisfy a need for revenge and punishment.  However there appears to be little or no benefit to taxpayers in terms of public safety.

Robert Bohall,  Member, Board of Directors

Virginia CURE

March 23, 2011