INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — A plan to overhaul Indiana's criminal sentencing laws is moving through the Legislature with broad bipartisan support, although some county officials are worried it will shift costs to the local level.
Supporters expect the changes will delay the need to build new state prison space by instead sentencing potentially thousands of nonviolent offenders to probation and work-release programs.
The proposal would also toughen sentencing for the most serious crimes by requiring those inmates to serve at least 75 percent of their sentences. Current law allows them to be released after serving half their sentences if they stay out of trouble while behind bars.
Provisions included in a bill advancing in the Indiana Legislature that would overhaul the state's criminal sentencing laws:
— Requires most felons to serve at least 75 percent of their sentences, up from the 50 percent or less that prisoners might now serve if they earn good-time and education credits while behind bars.
— Replaces the state's current four-tier system of felonies, which range from class A, the most-serious felonies with the longest sentences, to class D. Substitute a six-tier system, with class 1 being most serious and ranging down to class 6.
— Keeps the sentencing ranges for the current class A felonies the same for class 1 felonies, 20 years to 50 years in prison. The sentencing range for class B felonies is currently six years to 20 years. Under the new plan, class 2 felonies would carry sentences of between 10 years and 30 years, and class 3 crimes would carry three-year to 20-year sentences.
— Gives local judges more flexibility in deciding whether to suspend prison sentences and order defendants with previous convictions to probation or other programs.
— Replaces current law that makes many cocaine and methamphetamine possession cases class A felonies if more than 3 grams of the drug are involved with provisions for less-serious charges based on drug amounts.
— Makes possession of marijuana a misdemeanor offense, a change from current law that makes possession of more than 30 grams a felony. Possible penalties for dealing marijuana would remain unchanged.
— Reduces from 1,000 feet to 500 feet the distance from schools and parks for tougher penalties for drug offenses and requires that the crime happen at a time when someone younger than 18 could reasonably be expected to be present.
— Changes current law that makes all theft charges a felony by allowing thefts under $750 as misdemeanors. Thefts of more than $50,000 in value would face higher-level felony charges.
The Indiana House is scheduled to vote Monday on whether to approve the bill and send it to the Senate for consideration.