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Counties worry about cost of sentencing overhaul

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Indiana counties could be forced to pay some of the costs of a change in the state's criminal code that is designed to keep low-level offenders out of prison while ensuring the worst serve more of their sentences.

The Times in Munster reports that the Probation Officers' Professional Association of Indiana predicts as many as 800 more probation officers will be needed statewide under the changes, which are scheduled to take effect July 1, 2014.

That's causing concern in cash-strapped places like Porter and Lake counties.

"At this point in time, any increase will affect our department negatively," said Lake County Chief Probation Officer Jan Parsons.

Parsons said the changes in state law, which lawmakers approved last month, put a greater burden on Lake County's already overloaded probation officers.

The ratio of offenders to officers was 40 to 1 in 1987 but has jumped to about 240 to 1 now, she said. Federal probation authorities recommend a caseload of no greater than 70 to 1.

Parsons said Lake County has 18 probation officers, but a recent study found it needs about 13 more.

Porter County Chief Probation Officer Stephen Meyer said he's worried that the changes, which will be reviewed by a legislative study committee this summer, could further strap an office that already faces challenges meeting salary increases required by the state.

About a third of the office's $1.8 million annual budget is covered by user fees set by the state. Local officials can't increase those fees, but the rest of the budget is funded with county tax dollars, he said.

Even though lawmakers will review the costs associated with the changes this summer, Meyer noted that lawmakers won't be writing a new state budget next year. That has raised concerns about whether county probation officials could receive additional money.

"We don't know where any money can come from," he said.

The law requires that most inmates serve at least 75 percent of their sentences. Current law allows most inmates to be released after serving half of their sentences or less if they stay out of trouble while behind bars.

It also expands to six the current number of felony levels and shifts people convicted of lower-level property or drug crimes to intensive local probation, work-release or addiction-treatment programs.

Supporters say they expect the changes to improve the state's justice system, reduce crime rates and reduce the need for new prisons.

The new code is the first significant change to the state's criminal laws since 1977.

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  1. Those of you yelling to deport them all should at least understand that the law allows minors (if not from a bordering country) to argue for asylum. If you don't like the law, you can petition Congress to change it. But you can't blindly scream that they all need to be deported now, unless you want your government to just decide which laws to follow and which to ignore.

  2. 52,000 children in a country with a population of nearly 300 million is decimal dust or a nano-amount of people that can be easily absorbed. In addition, the flow of children from central American countries is decreasing. BL - the country can easily absorb these children while at the same time trying to discourage more children from coming. There is tension between economic concerns and the values of Judeo-Christian believers. But, I cannot see how the economic argument can stand up against the values of the believers, which most people in this country espouse (but perhaps don't practice). The Governor, who is an alleged religious man and a family man, seems to favor the economic argument; I do not see how his position is tenable under the circumstances. Yes, this is a complicated situation made worse by politics but....these are helpless children without parents and many want to simply "ship" them back to who knows where. Where are our Hoosier hearts? I thought the term Hoosier was synonymous with hospitable.

  3. Illegal aliens. Not undocumented workers (too young anyway). I note that this article never uses the word illegal and calls them immigrants. Being married to a naturalized citizen, these people are criminals and need to be deported as soon as humanly possible. The border needs to be closed NOW.

  4. Send them back NOW.

  5. deport now

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