Indiana should relieve crowded prisons by building up community corrections and allowing judges more flexibility in sentencing, editorializes the Indianapolis Star. The state has boosted spending on prisons 71 percent in six years, more than six times the rate of inflation during the same period. The Star notes that crowding is the worst in four decades: facilities built for 16,000 inmates hold nearly 23,000.
Safety of guards and inmates is a concern. Drug treatment sessions and job training classes, have been canceled because of crowded conditions at two prisons. The state, facing an $800 million deficit, isn’t in a position to build its way out of the problem, the paper says. A state health department report last week said that inmates at one prison are subjected to filthy, unfit conditions.
Two avenues provide the state a way out of the problem. The first involves greater reliance on community corrections; the second would allow judges more flexibility in sentencing convicted criminals.
Would giving judges the ability to reduce sentences suddenly make Indiana soft on crime? Not necessarily, the Star says. Judges would be able to tailor sentences to better fit the true nature of the crime. “With taxpayers now handing over almost $21,000 a year to house and feed each inmate, a mandatory 20-year sentence is an expensive proposition for everyone involved,” says the paper. “Unshackling judges from having to hand down mandatory sentences would free them to do what they are elected to do — make wise, carefully weighed decisions. Diverting more inmates into community corrections is in the long run a less expensive alternative than continuing to pack convicts into ever-larger prisons.”