Overhauling Indiana's Sentencing Practices: Is It A Good Idea?

By Jeff Neumeyer

March 25, 2013 Updated Mar 26, 2013 at 12:07 PM EDT

INDIANA, (www.incnow.tv) --- Are Hoosiers going to be comfortable with a proposed overhaul of Indiana's criminal code that would cut back on prison time for non-violent offenders?

Michael Stafford was sentenced last week to 120 years for a burglary and sexual assault in Dekalb County that was done to a mom in front of her young daughter.

Proposed reforms would make violent offenders like Stafford serve at least 75 percent of their sentence, rather than the current 50 percent.

Fort Wayne attorney Bill Lebrato sees the value in such a change.

" Violent crime should be punished," said Lebrato, who supports getting tough on the worst offenders, as long as other changes happen too-- namely, diverting more lower-level criminals to county based alternative sentencing programs that focus on rehabilitation.

" People possessing low-level amounts of marijuana should not be sent to prison, whether it's your first offense or second offense," he said.

The concept of reducing Indiana’s prison population seems to be a good one.

But will Allen County and other counties around the state be able to handle the extra burden of suddenly having a lot of new offenders dropped in their laps?

Allen Superior Court Criminal Judge Wendy Davis says local drug court and probation programs are already filled to overflow with clients.

She wonders how the county can afford to expand those rehab efforts, unless the state provides supplemental funding.

There’s also the worry that more offenders out of custody could put public safety more at risk.

" If in fact they pass this legislation, and we as judges have to uphold those laws, we need to have the tools here to ensure that they really are not a threat to our community," Judge Davis said.

Governor Mike Pence has voiced concerns about the overhaul, saying we need to reduce crime, not penalties.

An Indiana Senate committee is supposed to take up the matter Tuesday.

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