INDIANAPOLIS – The last time Indiana overhauled its criminal code Jimmy Carter was president and the Colts were in Baltimore.
At midnight Indiana ushered in its first new criminal code revision since 1977 with laws intended to keep the worst offenders in prison longer while sending low-level felons back to the counties and communities where they committed their crimes.
“Under the new code there should be a greater certainty of sentencing in terms of credit time and hopefully we’re going to avoid those aberrational results where individuals get sentences of eight to ten years and they’re out within a year and a half,” said Marion County Prosecutor Terry Curry. “For the vast majority of felonies under the new code for any executed sentence you would serve a minimum of 75% of your sentence.”
Curry said offenders like Chris Wheat, a swimming coach who was convicted of having sex with a teenage athlete, and Shamus Patton, the man who wounded eight people during a shooting at the Indiana Black Expo Summer Celebration downtown, would no longer be eligible for prison release after serving less than a third of their sentences.
But not all felons would serve longer sentences. Some may never see the inside of a state prison.
“As a general proposition, the penalties in the drug area have been significantly reduced,” said Curry. “The implication is that there will be fewer individuals going to prison for drug offenses.”
Indiana currently houses approximately 29,500 inmates.
If the Department of Corrections was a city, it would be larger than Noblesville.
A new prison to hold a growing inmate population would cost taxpayers $140 million to build and $35 million to run during the first year.
The criminal code revisions expand the level of felony classes from four to six and permit inmates convicted of lower level felonies to serve their sentences in county jails where judges would have the option of assigning offenders to community corrections or home detention with electronic monitoring.
“Believe me, when we can put somebody on an ankle bracelet for seven or eight dollars a day compared to keeping him in the jail for $68 a day, it saves the taxpayers a lot of money, but at what expense?” said Marion County Sheriff John Layton. “We would only do that with non-violent offenders. We would never do that with someone who has sexual offenses or violent offenses in their background.”
Layton said he can house 1,135 inmates in his system and the sheriff’s department is running at above 90% capacity at its various facilities.
“We’re in a tight squeeze here but some of these sheriffs in Indiana have absolutely no room at all already so they’re really worried about it.”
Layton said sheriffs across the state are already strapped by split-sentencing laws that went into effect several years ago allowing some offenders to finish the last year of their prison sentence at the local level or in community corrections while the criminal code revisions will place more drug offenders, thieves and burglars back in local jails.
The new rules will also streamline the process to charge and sentence habitual offenders.
DOC Spokesman Doug Garrison told FOX59 News that state officials are unsure what impact the new guidelines will have on the state’s prison population.
While inmates convicted of more serious crimes will remain in prison beds for longer terms, they will not be replaced by lesser offenders who will stay at the county level.
A suspect arrested for a crime committed before midnight will be charged, tried and, if convicted, sentenced under the old code.
Any crime committed after midnight will be adjudicated by the new code.
Curry said inmates convicted under the previous code will not be allowed to appeal their sentence based on the 2014 revisions.