Indiana chief justice endorses sentencing changes

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Indiana's chief justice urged lawmakers Wednesday to support a package of criminal sentencing changes that would give judges more leeway to send less serious offenders to community corrections instead of prison.

Randall T. Shepard endorsed the overhaul during his annual State of the Judiciary speech to a joint session of the Indiana General Assembly. Gov. Mitch Daniels also supports the proposals, which grew out of a state-commissioned report by the Pew Center on the States and the Council of State Governments Justice Center.

The report suggested allowing judges to sentence people convicted of lesser felonies to community corrections, which can include work release or treatment programs. This would help free up prison space for the state's worst offenders, the report said, potentially saving more than $1 billion that would otherwise go toward building new prisons.

Shepard said half of the new prisoners sent to Indiana prisons are people whose crimes fall into the least serious category, class D felonies.

He said deciding which offenders really need to be kept in a prison cell could improve public safety, lower repeat offenses, help inmates find jobs and lower prison costs.

Shepard also used his annual speech to tout progress he said the state's court system has made on other issues, including technology and helping people avoid mortgage foreclosures.

He noted that state law gives Indiana homeowners the right to meet face to face with lenders to try to negotiate a modified loan, and said the court-facilitated system had been improved to the point where half of the homeowners who attend the conferences leave with a revised loan.

Shepard also told legislators about several steps state courts have taken to computerize various procedures, including helping victims of domestic violence obtain protective orders online, a computerized case management system used in 26 counties and notifying police when a person is declared mentally ill to help prevent them from buying guns.

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