Indiana Will Now Send Low-Level Felons to Prison Instead of Jail
by Casey J. Bastian
On July 1, 2022, Indiana House Enrolled Act No. 1004 took effect, amending sections of the state code governing parole, supervised release, and placement in community corrections programs in ways that primarily affect sexual offenders – sending those who would previously have spent a short sentence in a county jail to a state prison instead.
In May 2022, WTHI in Terre Haute reported that nearly 80% of jails in the state were overcrowded. So local sheriffs were welcoming the relief promised by the law. Lawmakers also pointed out that a significant number of low-level offenders suffer from drug addictions and/or mental health disorders, for which local jails do not offer treatment programs. So these Level 6 felons would have a better chance of receiving treatment in a state lockup, they said.
But the law also requires sexual or violent offenders once paroled to wear a monitoring device, subject to “a validated sex offender or appropriate violent offender risk assessment.” Such devices transmit location information 24-hours per day.
Sending low-level offenders to prison rather than jail for their relatively short sentences (normally six months to two and half years) had widespread bipartisan support. But a few lawmakers pointed out that the treatment benefits touted in state prisons could be offered in local jails, without sending low-level offenders to a state prison typically farther from home. As state Sen. Rodney Pol (D-East Chicago) said, “having a support system nearby has a tremendous effect on a person who is trying to get his or her life together.”
Pol also pointed out that DOC treatment programs like drug therapy have long waiting lists and require attendance for long periods of time that a low-level offender will not necessarily be sentenced to. As a result, he believed that the hoped-for benefits of placing a Level 6 felon in state prison most likely would not materialize.
Instead, Pol proposed an amendment to the law that would require consent from certain Level 6 offenders – those with a sentence of less than a year – before they were sent to a state Department of Corrections facility, rather than a county jail. The amendment was rejected. See: General Assembly of the State of Indiana, House Enrolled Act No. 1004 (2022).
Additional sources: Council of State Governments Midwest, Indiana Senate Democrats, WTHI
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