Pubdate: Thu, 14 Jul 2011
Source: Indiana Daily Student (IN Edu)
Copyright: 2011 Indiana Daily Student
Author: Nico Perrino


After gaining support from Gov. Mitch Daniels in December, 2010, an
important sentencing reform effort was derailed in March when
Indiana's county prosecutors accused supporters of being soft on crime.

SB 561, which passed the senate 46-3 but died in a house committee,
would have sought to fix an Indiana sentencing and corrections system
that has spiraled out of control.

The push for reform came after a report commissioned last year by the
Pew Center on the States and the Council of State Governments Justice
Center found Indiana's prison population increased by 47 percent
between 2000 and 2010, and its spending increased by 37 percent from
$495 million to $679 million.

More startling than this past growth is Indiana's projected growth.
According to the study, Indiana's prison population is projected to
grow by 21 percent over the next seven years, and to accommodate these
new inmates the taxpayers would have to invest $1.2 billion on new

At a time when it is costing Indiana taxpayers $21,841 to incarcerate
one inmate (last calculated in 2001), more than five times what it
costs an in-state student to attend IU, and with contracting state
budgets, it's hard to justify these growing expenditures.

However, this problem is not unique to Indiana. The United States in
general has a prison system problem.

Today, America houses about 23 percent of the world's prisoners,
despite claiming only 5 percent of the world's population.

So how do we fix this problem? Well the obvious, and perhaps easiest,
solution is sentencing reform.

Since 1984, when Congress passed the Sentencing Reform Act, which
emphasized punishment over reform and resulted in minimum sentences
for non-violent drug offenders, the United States has seen its
incarceration rate skyrocket, despite violent and property crime
remaining stagnant -- in Indiana, violent crime has gone down over the
past 10 years.

But sentencing reform is not as easy to push through the legislature
as it sounds. Most of those removed from prisons would be handed off
to local municipalities to be placed in community based corrections
programs, which is expensive for municipalities, although cheaper for
Indiana as a whole.

The harder solution I think is perhaps the better one: decriminalize
drugs. America has the highest rate of cocaine and marijuana use in
the world. In Indiana, 24 percent of inmates are incarcerated for
substance abuse.

The war on drugs is not preventing drug use, but instead is saddling
federal and state governments with rising costs and overflowing prisons.

The logical line of reasoning suggests that decriminalizing drugs will
result in more drug use. But using Portugal, which decriminalized
drugs in 2001, as a case study, we can see this is not the case.

Since decriminalizing, drug use amongst teens has declined, while the
number of people seeking help for addictions has doubled. Now Portugal
touts the lowest rate of lifetime marijuana use in people over 15 in
Europe with 10.6 percent. Compare that with America, and you see we
don't even come close: 39.8 percent of Americans over 12 partake in
lifetime use.

But more than outrageous costs, overflowing prisons and policies that
do not produce their desired outcomes, U.S. criminal and sentencing
policy suggests a country that has strayed from its values.

America is supposed to be the world's freest country where people are
free to make both good and bad decisions. But increasingly we have
seen legislators imposing extraordinary prison sentences on
individuals who seek to harm nobody but themselves.

America and Indiana should stop paying five semesters' worth of
college tuition to house each individual non-violent offender and
instead put that money to better use. Say, higher education?
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