KPC NEWS SERVICE

Recently, we learned that Indiana might not be as tough as you think on drunken drivers.

A new study by the WalletHub research organization ranks Indiana as the 37th strictest state for driving under the influence. The Hoosier state ranks 30th in criminal penalties and 38th in “prevention.”

What contributes to Indiana’s low ranking?

In the area of penalties, the study found that 92 percent of states (46 of 50) require offenders to equip their vehicles with ignition interlock devices. Indiana is not one of them.

In Indiana, committing a repeat drunken-driving offense within five years increases the penalty — making the crime a low-level felony instead of a misdemeanor.

However, in two-thirds of the states, the window to be considered a repeat offender is 10 years or longer.

Indiana does not appear to be lenient in every way, however.

The study says 43 states automatically suspend the license of someone arrested for drunken driving, even before a court conviction. The most common length for the automatic suspension is 90 days, but Indiana is more strict at 180 days.

Nationwide, the average jail stay for a first-time offender is one day. Indiana has no mandatory minimum sentence for a first offense. However, local sentences often include four days or more of incarceration.

The national average jail stay is 21 days for a repeat offender. Indiana requires at least five days. But local sentences for repeat offenders can range up to 120-180 days.

The national average fine is $347 for the first DUI and $757 for a repeat offense. No average for Indiana was provided. Fines in local courts tend to be lower than the national average, while local jail terms are longer than average.

Northeast Indiana courts appear to be tougher on drunken drivers than the state average and even the national average, which means our area does not deserve to be labeled as lenient.

When it comes to punishment, a jail-design specialist speaking to DeKalb County commissioners last week offered some fascinating thoughts.

The architects told commissioners that the justice system has a chance to significantly affect only 60 percent of offenders.

He said 20 percent of offenders are repeat criminals, and we have little hope of reforming them, no matter what we try.

Another 20 percent are one-time offenders who made “really dumb decisions.” One encounter with the justice system is likely to cure them for life.

The remaining 60 percent of offenders are teetering on the fence. An effective criminal justice system could turn them in the right direction.

Simply putting an inmate in a concrete box won’t lead to positive outcomes, he said. Inmates need “an opportunity to learn something, rather than just sitting there.”

But most jails struggle just to keep the inmates housed and fed. In the architect’s opinion, about 70 percent of Indiana jails are understaffed.

Even though jails are struggling to cope, new Indiana laws on sentencing are sending more people to county jails, instead of to state prisons.

Keeping inmates closer to home sounds like a good idea, but only if counties can afford effective programs to reform prisoners. State legislators will need to send additional dollars back home along with the extra inmates.

This was distributed by Hoosier State Press Association. Send comments to dr-editorial@greenfieldreporter.com.