Indiana taking new tact to fight crime

KPC News

Spending to help reform criminal offenders could more than double in a new state budget proposed by the Indiana House of Representatives.

The money — nearly $90 million over two years — would go to local communities for treatment programs aimed at keeping people from returning to crime.

“We want to make sure it’s not used simply to build jails,” the bill’s author, Rep. Greg Steuerwald, R-Avon, told a newspaper reporter who covers the Statehouse.

The bill also would forbid judges from sentencing the lowest-level felons to state prisons starting next year.

It’s all part of a growing movement in Indiana to stop spending so much on prisons and start trying to reduce the need for so many cells.

Reports say groups such as the Indiana Sheriffs’ Association support the idea, which improves the chances of success.

Why do we need to change directions? The numbers show that between the years 2000 and 2010, Indiana’s prison population rose from 19,000 to 28,000. The cost of operating those prisons increased from $480 million per year to $680 million today.

All that spending was not producing the desired results. More than half of people who went to prisons were committing crimes again when they got out.

It’s time to try something different. The new prescription calls for treatment to help drug addictions, supervision by more probation officers and helping prisoners find jobs.

People who commit crimes have to survive somehow when they eventually get out of prison. If they can’t find jobs, they return to crime, then go back to prison, where taxpayers provide their room and board.

Is this a namby-pamby, soft-on-crime approach? Don’t tell that to Texas, which Steuerwald is holding up as a model for his ideas. According to reports, Texas spent $230 million on community corrections programs and ended up saving $3 billion on state prison operating costs.

Impressed by the Texas example, the Indiana House of Representatives recently refused to approve $51 million for a plan to expand two state prisons. The request now goes to the Indiana Senate, where a key senator told a reporter he is dead-set against spending more on prisons.

With so many key players on board, Indiana appears headed toward a new strategy in fighting crime. We don’t have to be tougher than Texas, but we can be just as smart.

This was distributed by Hoosier State Press Association.