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Some Worry New Criminal Code Will Increase Prison Population

In the upcoming session, the state legislature will likely revise the criminal code overhaul it passed this year.

Some people are worried legislation a panel approved yesterday will increase the state’s prison population.

The legislative study committee approved a bill that would increase the recommended penalties for half of the new felony levels in Indiana’s criminal code overhaul bill.

Indiana’s criminal code includes advisory sentences, recommended sentence lengths for each felony level that fall somewhere between the minimum and maximum penalties. The advisories are meant to help guide judges during sentencing.

Proposed legislation a legislative panel approved Thursday would increase the advisories for level three, four and five felonies. Those changes would increase the recommended sentences anywhere from one to four years.

Indiana Public Defender Council Executive Director Larry Landis says the change will upend the aim of the criminal code overhaul, reducing the prison population.

“They have to do something if they don’t want to build a prison,” he says. “They cannot live with 1006 or what they just passed today because that means we’re going to have to build a prison by 2015.”

Bedford Republican Senator Brent Steele, one of the overhaul’s architects, says more changes must be made, particularly to credit time. Under current law, offenders must serve at least half their sentence. Under the overhaul, all offenders would have to serve at least 75 percent of their sentence. Steele says he wants to tweak that change.

“By keeping it for level six offenders right where it is right now, day for day credit, I don’t think we’re going to have to do anything, at least for the foreseeable future, with regard to building new prisons,” Steele says.

Level six offenders, the lowest felony level, comprise the majority of prison inmates. Steele’s credit time change – requiring level six offenders to serve at least half, rather than three quarters of their sentence – would also apply to misdemeanor offenders.

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