While some states have made the move in recent years to reduce the number of non-violent drug offenders the system locks away behind bars, the Indiana Legislature is considering a bill this session that aims to increase the penalties for those caught in possession of specific controlled substances, but not marijuana.
The bill – HB 1235 – would shred a law approved by the state two years ago reducing the sentences for drug-related offenses, and impose a new set of rules that would reinforce the mandatory minimum sentences imposed against people busted for drugs like methamphetamine, cocaine and heroin. Representative Greg Steuerwald, who introduced the legislation, believes it would assist in alleviating the drug problem in the Hoosier state by forcing repeat offenders to serve out the full span of a mandatory jail term instead of giving them their freedom after serving only 75 percent of their sentence.
“We have a serious drug problem in Indiana that must be addressed,” Steuerwald said earlier this year in a press statement. “Hopefully drug dealers learn their lesson the first time they go to jail, but if they don’t, we will send them a longer sentence.”
Perhaps the only positive to be taken away from this ridiculous proposal is that, for once, marijuana is not being viewed as the enemy – a definite step forward in the overall attitude of the Indiana state legislature, which has refused to allow any marijuana-related bills to receive a hearing over the past several years.
According to Steuerwald‘s bill, a sentence would only be enhanced if a “person has a prior conviction, in any jurisdiction, for dealing in a controlled substance that is not marijuana, hashish, hash oil, or salvia divinorum.”
Supporters of the bill, like David Powell, executive director of the Indiana Prosecuting Attorneys Council, are not exactly the pillars of intelligent thought that lead to the creation of effective drug laws. For these people, the solution to the state’s black market drug trade is as simple as beefing up law enforcement and filling up the private prisons. Because, after all, “if you’re in prison, it’s a little harder to deal drugs.”
Unfortunately, if ending illegal drug commerce anywhere in the world was as easy as throwing its representatives in cages, the United States would have been on verge of becoming a drug free nation long before now. Of course, this is far from the case. As it stands, around half of the inmates sitting in federal and state penitentiaries are drug offenders, and the flow of illegal substances has not come anywhere close to being shutdown.
Fortunately, there is some common sense rattling around in Indianapolis in regards to this plan.
Those who oppose Steuerwald‘s bill believe the state should focus more of their resources on education and rehabilitation rather than spend millions of dollars tax revenue each year to incarcerate drug offenders. A fiscal note attached to the bill indicates that its costs over $20,000 a year to imprison adult offenders and in upwards of $89,000 per year to house each juvenile.
Last year, Indiana set aside $30 million in an effort to strengthen mental health and addiction treatment programs. It was called “Recovery Works,” and its primary mission was to put more drug offenders into treatment rather than send them to jail. Some lawmakers would like the state to give this program more time to work before jumping the gun to pass a stricter sentencing policy.
National drug reform advocacy group the Drug Policy Alliance chimed in on Steuerwald‘s proposal earlier this week in hopes of preventing a favorable vote in the Senate.
“To keep our communities safer, we need to be smart on crime, not harsh on crime,” reads a letter from the DPA. “This legislation is the latter. It unfairly penalizes non-violent offenders who are better helped and taught through alternative programs to incarceration – addiction treatment centers, financial support programs, community service, probation, and more. An incarceration-based approach does not help people become productive and healthy members of their communities. It does not make our communities safer and does not address root problems. It is expensive, burdens tax-payers, and diverts resources from positive prevention, medical, and community-based programs.”
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