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Compromise elusive on Indiana sentencing changes

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An Indiana legislator trying to find a compromise on a plan that Gov. Mitch Daniels originally pushed to help stem the state's prison costs seems to still have work ahead.

The proposal from Rep. Ralph Foley, R-Martinsville, would allow longer prison terms for those convicted of the most serious crimes while eliminating a provision to require many of those inmates to serve at least 85 percent of the sentence ordered by a judge.

Daniels has threatened to veto the bill, partly because of cost concerns over a change approved by the Senate from current law that allows most inmates to be released after serving half their sentence if they don't get into trouble while in prison.

The original bill endorsed by Daniels and drafted by a state panel sought to lessen prison time for nonviolent drug offenders and save money by avoiding the need to build more prisons. But after county prosecutors assailed it as soft on crime, senators gutted the bill and even lengthened sentences for some offenders.

Foley, who is sponsoring the bill in the House, said he was talking with many law-enforcement groups and the Daniels administration to come up with acceptable changes.

He said he was trying to direct more money to counties for community corrections programs, probation departments and substance abuse counseling to help deal with low-level offenders and keep them out of the state prison system.

Foley also is proposing to extend by 10 years the maximum sentence that judges can impose for murder to 75 years and for other top-level felonies to 60 years.

"Mainly, I'm concentrating on two things. One is to make sure that it won't be vetoed. And the second is to get as much money to the counties as humanly possible for programming," Foley said.

Steve Johnson, executive director of the Indiana Prosecuting Attorneys Association, told the House Courts and Criminal Code Committee on Wednesday that the group pushed for the tougher sentencing rules because inmates have been given many ways to shorten their prison time, such as completing college degrees.

Johnson said after the hearing that most county prosecutors didn't think adding 10 years to the maximum sentences would do much good. He also said he didn't believe there would be as much budget impact as Daniels has suggested.

"Any increased costs by keeping the worst of the worst in longer is far down the line," Johnson said.

The committee could consider Foley's proposed amendment next week.

Department of Correction officials told the House committee that they projected the Senate-passed version would force the state into building another prison within six years at a cost of more than $200 million.

Republican Sen. Brent Steele of Bedford, chairman of the Senate Corrections Committee, said he didn't agree with that projection. He said he didn't believe a sentencing change package could clear the Senate without the 85 percent of prison time requirement, which would cover those convicted of murder, voluntary manslaughter and top-level felonies such as rape, child molesting, kidnapping and neglect of a dependent.

"They aren't serving what people think they should serve," Steele said. "With all the credit times and education times that have been enacted in the last few years, they just aren't serving enough years."
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  • Never Satisfied
    The next step is to give the death sentence for all crimes classified as a felony. Who cares if some innocent gets caught in the trap. An in the mean time, to reduce state costs, lets put them in prision with only one meal a day every two days. Then eliminate appeals, but in the mean time, they might die of starvation and that satisfies everyone right?
  • Please stop politicizing this issue and do the right thing!
    The back and forth communication taking place over this bill is quickly becoming tiresome and foolish. The bottom line here is this...Government exists for only one legitimate purpose and that is to protect the public from lawless behavior. If this means other prisons need to be built in this state, then so be it...I do not want government to abdicate its sole responsibilities. Further, there is an extreme need for people in this state to rethink the issue of substance abuse and decriminalization. This war on drugs is costing us big time and prohibition just leads to further violence and bloodshed...do you not think the very smart and intelligent people within our government do not know this?

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  1. These liberals are out of control. They want to drive our economy into the ground and double and triple our electric bills. Sierra Club, stay out of Indy!

  2. These activist liberal judges have gotten out of control. Thankfully we have a sensible supreme court that overturns their absurd rulings!

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  4. For you central Indiana folks that don't know what a good pizza is, Aurelio's will take care of that. There are some good pizza places in central Indiana but nothing like this!!!

  5. I am troubled with this whole string of comments as I am not sure anyone pointed out that many of the "high paying" positions have been eliminated identified by asterisks as of fiscal year 2012. That indicates to me that the hospitals are making responsible yet difficult decisions and eliminating heavy paying positions. To make this more problematic, we have created a society of "entitlement" where individuals believe they should receive free services at no cost to them. I have yet to get a house repair done at no cost nor have I taken my car that is out of warranty for repair for free repair expecting the government to pay for it even though it is the second largest investment one makes in their life besides purchasing a home. Yet, we continue to hear verbal and aggressive abuse from the consumer who expects free services and have to reward them as a result of HCAHPS surveys which we have no influence over as it is 3rd party required by CMS. Peel the onion and get to the root of the problem...you will find that society has created the problem and our current political landscape and not the people who were fortunate to lead healthcare in the right direction before becoming distorted. As a side note, I had a friend sit in an ED in Canada for nearly two days prior to being evaluated and then finally...3 months later got a CT of the head. You pay for what you get...

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