News From Terre Haute, Indiana

Opinion

July 31, 2011

STATE OF THE STATEHOUSE: Sentencing reform not for the faint of heart

INDIANAPOLIS — After sitting through another meeting of a legislative study committee charged with taking a hard look at crime and punishment in Indiana, I realized why it’s been nearly 40 years since lawmakers undertook a similar task and why an attempt to fast-track a sentencing reform bill went off the tracks in the last session of the Indiana General Assembly.

A comprehensive review of the state’s criminal code and sentencing policies isn’t for the politically faint of heart or those afflicted with attention deficit disorder.

It’s tedious stuff, plowing through legal language and figuring out the unintended consequences of simplifying a criminal code that’s been altered and expanded by a legislature that changes — in personalities and priorities — every two years.

In other states where criminal codes have been overhauled or cleaned up to eliminate antiquated, redundant or conflicting laws, it’s been likened to scraping barnacles off an old hull. The gluey substance excreted by barnacles to attach themselves is one of the strongest natural adhesives in the universe.

The analogy may be hyperbole, but it’s not the first time I’ve invoked some exaggeration to illustrate the difficulty of the task. In a recent column, I wrote that a current state senator told me it took a couple of guys about three days to rewrite the entire criminal code back in the 1970s.

When I asked one of those guys, retired lawyer Bob Small of Indianapolis, how he achieved such a task, he looked surprised.

“It took us three-and-half years,” he said.

Small, who later became an influential policy advisor to Democrat governors Evan Bayh and Frank O’Bannon, worked for a state commission established in the early 1970s and given the express task of revamping the Indiana criminal code. It, too, had been “barnacled” in the years since it had been rewritten in 1948. 

The commission for which Small worked had another big task beyond cleaning up the criminal code. It was also charged with rewriting the code in a way to switch punishment from “indeterminate” sentencing to “determinate” sentencing. 

Indeterminate sentencing put huge discretion in the hands of judges and parole boards to decide how long it would take an offender to be rehabilitated. Determinate sentencing limited that discretion and set up more of a prescriptive formula for punishment.

Long before Small and the commission took their recommendations to the legislature, they traveled around the state, inviting judges, prosecutors, defense attorneys and the public to help them wrestle with proposed changes.

It took the commission about three of those three-and-half years to build some consensus on difficult issues before the legislative bill to revamp the code was even drafted.

There's more to the story than that, but the moral of the tale may be that big changes deserve big effort and a lot of time to move from resistance to acceptance. 

Back in the 1970s, Small and the commission weren’t facing the same budgetary pressures that exist today.

The sentencing reform bill that failed in the last session was driven by the fact that Indiana prisons have topped out. There are now more prisoners than beds and the chunk of the state biennial budget that goes to the Indiana Department of Corrections is big: More than $1 billion.

So the question for legislators in the next session may have to do with the price of patience.

Maureen Hayden is Statehouse bureau chief for the Tribune-Star. She can be reached at maureen.hayden@indianamediagroup.com.

1
Text Only | Photo Reprints
Opinion
  • Ronn Mott: Gaza 2014 — hatred lives on

    The rockets’ red glares have turned Gaza, part of the Palestinian authority, into a battleground with Hamas, a legislative terrorist organization that has been stockpiling armaments to use against Israel for years.

    July 25, 2014

  • Readers’ Forum: July 25, 2014

    July 24, 2014

  • RONN MOTT: The Czar of Russia

    If you are expecting Vladimir Putin, President of the Russian Republic, to react to the crisis in the Ukraine as an ordinary elected official, think again. Even though Putin is the President of the Russian Republic, this is not the job he wants. Putin also doesn’t want to be the chairman of a newly resurrected Communist Party in Russia. No, what he wants is to be the czar of a greater Russia.

    July 24, 2014

  • Readers’ Forum: July 24, 2014

    • Clinic will expand basic health access
    • Misunderstanding truth about Islam

    July 23, 2014

  • EDITORIAL: Work program needs industry buy-in

    Good help is hard to find. That’s essentially what Indiana companies have insisted for several years. The state struggles with a “skills gap,” the firms explain. They need employees, but can’t find enough — or in some cases, any — qualified Hoosiers. Businesses say too few applicants possess the “soft skills,” such as showing up for work on time or being able to effectively communicate with co-workers.

    July 22, 2014

  • Readers’ Forum: July 23, 2014

    July 22, 2014

  • RONN MOTT: Dragonfly

    The other morning I was moving the canister that holds our recycling material out to the curb when I saw a strange sight. What I saw was a dragonfly fighting with a bee.

    July 22, 2014

  • FLASHPOINT: News about reality, not affirmation

    The public’s trust in the news media keeps dwindling. At the same time, Americans’ political polarization keeps increasing.

    July 21, 2014

  • LIZ CIANCONE: Chickens as pets always turned out same way

    I suppose many of us who grew up on farms or in small towns adopted unusual pets. I had a fondness for chickens. My folks always kept a few chickens, not only to fry or roast, but also for the eggs.

    July 21, 2014

  • Readers’ forum: July 22, 2014

    • Supt. Ritz has right to govern
    • A tribute to a teacher
    • Rep. Pelosi shows ‘bungling idiocy’

    July 21, 2014

  • Readers’ forum: July 21, 2014

    • Theater brings the joy of music
    • Drawing closer to the spirit
    • Give some space to heterosexuals

    July 20, 2014

  • LovellEdwards.JPG MARK BENNETT: Former Terre Hautean Jim Lovell stood ready as Neil Armstrong’s backup on Apollo 11

    The words “Apollo 11” stir optimism in me.
    I was an elementary school kid growing up in Vigo County when Neil Armstrong put the first footprint on the moon on July 20, 1969. So much seemed possible

    July 20, 2014 1 Photo 4 Stories

  • EDITORIAL: Vigo Jail study essential to determine strategy

    It comes as encouraging news that the Vigo County Council might include in its 2015 budget significant funding for an expert and neutral study of what can be done to replace or enhance the existing county jail.

    July 20, 2014

  • Readers’ forum: July 20, 2014

    • ‘Hotel Indiana’ has a sour tune

    • Kind words about the newspaper

    • Some questions about RTL video

    • No mercy for cop killers

    • Crack down on gun violence

    • Anti-Dem tirades mask GOP failures

    • Important day for participants

    • Appreciation for support

    July 20, 2014

  • FLASHPOINT: Solve our border crisis

    More than 60,000 unaccompanied alien children — mostly from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador — have been apprehended on America’s southern border during this fiscal year.

    July 20, 2014

  • RONN MOTT: World Cup over, but it was fun

    After many weeks and many games, the World Cup is over. While the world calls it “futbol,” only we in North America play another brand of football. It is very simple to understand why this is the world’s favorite game … all it takes is an empty lot, a round soccer ball, and you can get a futbol game together.

    July 18, 2014

  • FLASHPOINT: Living in peaceful communities requires collaboration

    Hoosiers have the right to live in peace. Yet, too many of our friends and neighbors are currently living in fear.

    July 18, 2014

  • Flashpoint: Will Gov. Pence be true to his word?

    This is written in response to recent remarks made by State Board of Education members.

    July 17, 2014

  • Readers’ Forum: July 18, 2014

    July 17, 2014

  • RONN MOTT: Presidential Ambush

    No wild-west ambush, either real or fiction, has been as successful as the ambush on President Barack Obama.

    July 17, 2014

  • READERS’ FORUM: July 17, 2014

    • Civil rights and burning cities

    • Quality service from Baesler’s

    July 16, 2014

  • FLAHSPOINT: Supt. Glenda Ritz ‘creating conflict’

    It has been my pleasure for the past year to serve as the newest member of the Indiana State Board of Education. I bring a fresh perspective to the board as an attorney and business executive who served as Director of Economic Development under former Indianapolis Mayor Bart Peterson and President of the Indy Partnership, a regional economic development organization charged with recruiting new companies to our state.

    July 16, 2014

  • tstribunestar Editorial: Continuing the standard

    U.S. Attorney Joe Hogsett has raised the profile of his federally appointed position more than any individual to hold the job in decades. From the start, he was a man on a mission, and often that mission was focused on rooting out corruption, maintaining integrity in government and pursuing those who violated the public trust.

    July 15, 2014 1 Photo

  • Readers’ Forum: July 16, 2014

    • The truth about property taxes

    July 15, 2014

  • Letter from BOE member: Superintendent Ritz ‘creating conflict’

    It has been my pleasure for the past year to serve as the newest member of the Indiana State Board of Education. I bring a fresh perspective to the board as an attorney and business executive who served as Director of Economic Development under former Indianapolis Mayor Bart Peterson and President of the Indy Partnership, a regional economic development organization charged with recruiting new companies to our state.

    July 15, 2014

  • RONN MOTT: Collett Park

    Saturday at the Park, Collett Park, another beautiful wedding was held. They looked so nice in the warm weather with the Gazebo acting as church sanctuary, I would almost be tempted myself to do it again, and do it outdoors at the Park. No, no, no, not again, even as pretty as it is in the Park on a nice July Saturday.

    July 15, 2014

  • Readers’ Forum: July 15, 2014

    • Are Fed policies hurting America?

    • Staying true to code of respect

    July 14, 2014

  • LIZ CIANCONE: Lots we did not have in those good ol’ days

    In my thankful moments, I’m glad I was not my grandmother’s daughter. I would miss the modern conveniences.

    July 14, 2014

  • EDITORIAL: Legal marriages should be honored

    An eager and probably nervous couple stands before a minister or a judge or a county clerk and exchanges vows, accepting the legal, moral and ethical obligations of a marriage.

    July 13, 2014

  • Readers’ Forum: July 14, 2014

    • Where did the 61 cents go?

    July 13, 2014

Latest News
TribStar.com Poll
AP Video
Raw: Air Algerie Flight 5017 Wreckage Raw: Big Rig Stuck in Illinois Swamp Judge Faces Heat Over Offer to Help Migrant Kids More M17 Bodies Return, Sanctions on Russia Grow Gaza Residents Mourn Dead Amid Airstrikes Kangaroo Goes Missing in Oklahoma Ohio State Marching Band Chief Fired After Probe Dempsey: Putin May Light Fire and Lose Control Crashed Air Algerie Plane Found in Mali Kerry: No Deal Yet on 7-Day Gaza Truce Israel Mulls Ceasefire Amid Gaza Offensive Raw: Iowa Police Dash Cam Shows Wild Chase Raw: Air Algerie Crash Site in Mali Virginia Governor Tours Tornado Aftermath Raw: Deadly Tornado Hits Virginia Campground Raw: Bolivian Dancers Attempt to Break Record Police: Doctor Who Shot Gunman 'Saved Lives' In Case of Fire, Oxygen Masks for Pets Mobile App Gives Tour of Battle of Atlanta Sites Israeli American Reservist Torn Over Return
NDN Video
Big Weekend For Atlanta Braves In Cooperstown - @TheBuzzeronFox Chapter Two: Becoming a first-time director What's Got Jack Black Freaking Out at Comic-Con? Doctors Remove 232 Teeth From Teen's Mouth Bradley Cooper Explains His Voice in 'Guardians of the Galaxy' Deja vu: Another NYPD officer choke-holding a suspect 'Fifty Shades of Grey': Watch the Super Sexy First Trailer Now! Reports: Ravens RB Ray Rice Suspended For 1st 2 Games Of The Season Air Algerie plane with 119 on board missing over Mali Diamond Stone, Malik Newman, Josh Jackson and others showcase talent Free Arturo - The World's Saddest Polar Bear A Look Back at Batman On Film Through The Years LeBron James -- Dropped $2k On Cupcake Apology ... Proceeds To Benefit Charity Snoop Dogg Says He Smoked Weed at the White House Raw: Fight Breaks Out in Ukraine Parliament Chris Pratt Interrupts Interview To French Braid Intern's Hair Shirtless Super Mario Balotelli Dances While Ironing - @TheBuzzeronFOX Whoa! Watch "Housewives" Star Do the Unthinkable LeBron apologizes to neighbors with cupcakes Justin Bieber In Calvin Klein Underwear Shoot
Parade
Magazine

Click HERE to read all your Parade favorites including Hollywood Wire, Celebrity interviews and photo galleries, Food recipes and cooking tips, Games and lots more.
  • -

     

    March 12, 2010

activity