A push by Governor Daniels to reform sentencing for low-level felonies collapsed in last year‘s legislature. But local judges and prosecutors appear to be taking care of the issue themselves.
The Indiana Department of Corrections says the state‘s prison population has abruptly flattened out, after nearly 30 years of steadily increasing at a 4-percent rate.
The number of prison inmates is actually one percent below its peak in 2010. Prison commissioner Bruce Lemmon says the number of prisoners doing time for serious crimes has not changed. Instead, he says there‘s been a significant dropoff in the number of people sent to prison for stints of two years or less.
Lemmon says more counties are putting nonviolent offenders into programs like home detention or work release and that steering low level offenders into those programs is better for everyone.
“Any time you can keep the offender in the local community, keeping him with his job, keeping him connected with his family. We don‘t do anything for those offenders that come and visit with us for six months,” Lemmon says. “There‘s not any programs we can put them in. So any time we can keep them in the community, it‘s much better for us.”
All but 12 counties now have community corrections programs, with six more scheduled to inaugurate such programs. The department expects the trend to continue for the foreseeable future.
Lemmon says he is not seeking any increase in the department‘s base budget for the next two years. The department is asking legislators for an additional $27 million for its expanding alternative-sentencing program for juvenile offenders, and for contractual increases for food and medical care.