Prison officials say a massive sentencing reform law that was supposed to save taxpayer money in Indiana is actually costing more, according to the Herald Bulletin.
The Department of Correction reports costs have more than tripled since it began diverting low-level offenders out of state prisons and back into their communities, as required by the new law.
Its report, which has yet to be released publicly, is alarming to some lawmakers who’ve seen it.
Senate Judiciary Chairman Brent Steele, R-Bedford, calls it “ridiculous” and says the report contains “phony-baloney numbers.”
Lawmakers who pushed to lower penalties for drug-related crimes, such as drug possession and theft, vowed to return anticipated savings from prison costs to communities for treatment programs, community corrections and local lock-ups.
But, according to the department's report, there's no money to send.
This despite a reduction in the prison population of more than 5,000 inmates – a 17 percent drop - since the law went into effect in July 2014.
Local sheriffs who supported the sentencing reform law are unhappy.
“We supported the reforms because we knew it was the right thing for our communities,” said Daviess County Sheriff Jerry Harbstreit, former head of the Indiana Sheriffs Association. “But this like a slap in the face."
The expense is expected to climb before the year’s end.
That’s because the state spends about $35 a day to house a convicted, low-level offender in a county jail, according to the Correction Department report.
The department claims it can house the same inmate in a prison for just under $10 a day.
Steele and other lawmakers who were deeply involved in crafting the sentencing reform law are irked by those claims.
Two years ago, when Correction Department officials asked lawmakers for money, they reported it cost about $60 a day to house a state prisoner.
A year ago, prison officials said they needed an additional $51 million to build a new state prison. Steele and others rejected the proposal, predicting that the state would be able to close a prison – and save millions – as sentencing reform took hold.
Steele said the department now is refusing to cooperate with the intent of the sentencing reform law.
Corrections officials don’t see it that way. The department's legislative director, Jon Ferguson, said the $10-a-day rate used in the report is a “marginal per diem” that doesn’t include the fixed, operational costs associated with running big prisons. And the number of those prison facilities the state operates hasn’t gone down since the sentencing reform law was put into place.
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