The Indiana Senate’s Corrections Committee has begun discussion on a bill which addresses one of the main concerns of this year’s State of the State and State of the Judiciary addresses – criminal sentencing reform.
Among the first to testify Tuesday was Jon Ozmint, who served as South Carolina’s Corrections Commissioner from 2003 until last month. Ozmint says the Hoosier State and the Palmetto State are similar, but that even South Carolina’s tough laws don’t incriminate all the people that Indiana’s do.
“When I came in in 2003, we had 21,000 inmates. When I left we were over 25,000. Y’all have outpaced us. You’ve got to work hard to do that, folks. We will lock you up for pretty near anything in South Carolina, but you’re locking up folks that even we don’t lock up,” he said.
Ozmint tied that to Indiana’s drug laws, saying the state imprisons too many people for possession of illegal substances. Bruce Lemon, the newly-appointed Indiana Department of Corrections Commissioner, appeared to agree, saying that when he was head of the Putnamville prison, he saw a staggering release rate for inmates serving short sentences. That, he said, leads to an inability to reform behavior.
“We have 2600 offenders at Putnamville. And last year we released 2000 of those offenders. We were lucky even to get them a job – dorm sanitation, etc. So that really hit home to me, right then and there, that we were really not doing much with these offenders,” Lemon said.
Former IDOC Commissioner Ed Buss, now in the same job in Florida, testified that the state also cannot afford to continue building prisons to hold its inmate population. Without change, Buss says, the state will have to spend $130 million to build another prison in the next two years and another $40 million a year to operate it – money, Buss pointed out, the state hasn’t had at any point in the Daniels administration.