Indiana Gov. Joe Kernan and other state leaders toured two state prisons yesterday and reached the same conclusion, says the Indianapolis Star: Something needs to be done, fast, about prison crowding.
The officials said Indiana needs to look at ways to cut the prison population — from giving judges more flexibility in sentencing to allowing more inmates to enter work-release and community corrections programs. Indiana has room for about 16,000 offenders and houses nearly 23,000, Kernan said. Without action, the situation will become a crisis by next year, he said.
Money is an unlikely solution; Indiana faces a budget deficit of at least $810 million. The state corrections department, with a two-year budget of about $1 billion, has space for more than 2,300 more inmates at two correctional facilities, but opening those areas would cost $37.5 million.
At one facility yesterday, the officials saw a room filled with bunks that used to house a now-canceled drug rehabilitation program. Another, they saw inmates who have nothing to do because there aren’t enough teachers or classrooms.
Officials cited mandatory sentencing laws as contributing to the crowding. If the state doesn’t begin to stem the tide of inmates, said House Speaker B. Patrick Bauer, the costly alternative will be building new prisons every couple of years. “That will become our economic development program,” he said. “We need to begin the thinking before the crisis comes, and it’s coming.”