Toward Second Chances: Reforming Criminal Justice in Indiana

In contrast to more common “tough-on-crime” rhetoric, Indiana’s constitution calls for incarceration to “attempt to reform persons and not punish them vindictively.” Recent criminal justice reforms have shown progress toward this goal—recidivism in Indiana is below the national average—but the state also estimates that over the next two years, its prison population will reach more than 34,000 inmates.

Against this backdrop, the Charles Koch Institute recently joined Governor Mike Pence and a panel of experts to discuss the current state of criminal justice and the opportunity for second chances in the Hoosier State. The event, held in Indianapolis, featured experts from Reason Foundation, the Indiana University Policy Institute, and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.

Deborah Daniels, a managing partner at Krieg DeVault LLP, opened the discussion, telling moderator Vikrant Reddy that the criminal justice system should seek “to improve public safety by creating more accountability in community settings.”

For Lauren Galik, director of criminal justice reform at Reason Foundation, overreliance on incarceration represents an opportunity for reform. Galik cited prosecutor concerns that reforms are going too far and endangering public safety, but she then highlighted Texas, where crime rates decreased by 21 percent after reforms were implemented. In requiring prisoners to serve a minimum of 75 percent of their sentence, Galik said, Indiana is actually increasing its prison population.

But who makes up this prison population, and what type of crimes result in long sentences? That was the question asked by Colette Tvedt of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. Tvedt, who spoke on misdemeanor courts as an important and oft-neglected issue in criminal justice, contended that “minor offenses can have massive consequences. Every person charged with a criminal offense should have a lawyer next to them.”

Troy Riggs, director of public safety outreach at the Indiana University Policy Institute, argued that incarceration doesn’t fix the underlying problem. Arresting, for example, a heroin addict does little to combat issues of addiction, Riggs said. That sentiment was echoed by Gov. Mike Pence, who delivered a keynote address after creating a new task force to combat drug abuse earlier that day.

“Indiana is determined to live up to the principle [of] rehabilitation, not vindictive justice,” Gov. Pence said. Speaking on a variety of criminal justice issues ranging from clemency to expungement to rehabilitation for drug users, Gov. Pence embraced the push for reform: “To really confront the challenges we face in criminal justice, we need […] an ‘all of the above’ approach to end the cycle of recidivism.”

“Having thoughtful discussion, which this Institute has fomented across the country on a bipartisan basis, is an enormously important task,” the governor stated, before adding, “I’m very proud as governor that we’re leaning into this effort to provide second chances in the Hoosier State.”

Full video of the event can be found below. For more information on the Institute’s efforts on criminal justice reform, click here.

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