During the last legislative session, sweeping changes were made to the criminal code pursuant to HEA 1006. In summary, felony crimes will change from four levels (A-D) to six levels (1-6), with a larger range of possible penalties, and many crimes were reclassified with particular emphasis on crimes that caused harm to others receiving the harshest punishments and substance-related offenses, such as possession of marijuana, were to be treated less harshly. Coupled with this change was to be a reallocation of funds to the community to pay for community corrections services and treatment. One factor that many are keeping an eye on is that credit time will change, which will result in defendants serving more actual time in prison for many acts.
Because of the magnitude of the bill, the implementation date is July 1, 2014. However, over the summer a legislative committee has been meeting to hammer out changes and there is likely going to be many more changes as the new legislative session starts this month.
So, why should juvenile justice advocates care? There are several reasons:
- Many children who are waived to criminal court or subject to direct file offenses will serve more time incarcerated than under the current criminal code.
- There remains some low-level felony crimes that are excluded from juvenile court jurisdiction completely. (See I.C. 31-30-1-4).
- The mechanism to reallocate the funds to the community correction programs is not set up as originally planned, and without the rehabilitative services there is little hope that substance offenders, the mentally ill, and others will be able to stay out of the system.
- The increased incarceration time will not relieve the jail overcrowding situation the Indiana Department of Correction (DOC). This overcrowding makes it more difficult for inmates to participate in rehabilitative services, particularly if they are held in local jails as DOC holding facilities. The math is simple — either find a way to divert low-level criminals into rehabilitative services or pay for more incarceration (projected to be an additional 1.2 billion dollars by 2017.). For the data, see the Pew Foundation studies. For the prison population numbers, note that as of November 1, 2013, the male population was at 98% capacity, according to the DOC population summary.
As the new General Assembly begins, participate. Contact your legislators and especially those who have been intimately involved in the process as members of the Criminal Law and Sentencing Policy Study Committee.