Lawmakers draft bill to cut some inmate credits

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Indiana lawmakers say they are moving forward with plans that would keep convicted criminals behind bars longer.

That comes after 13 Investigates revealed concerns that thousands of violent criminals have been released too soon from Indiana prisons.

Indiana's Criminal Code is what determines how much time a convicted criminal will spend behind bars. It's been 35 years since that code has had a major overhaul and it now appears that is about to change.

Every year, thousands of convicted criminals are set free after serving just a fraction of their sentence. 13 Investigates showed inmates have been able to stack good time credits with education credits, vocational credits, rehabilitation credits, and other credits to slash years - even decades - off their sentences.

Many of the lawmakers, judges and attorneys that make up the state's Criminal Code Evaluation Commission say it's time to change that. This week, they finished a major review of the Criminal Code, resulting in a proposed bill that's nearly 400 pages long.

Following WTHR's investigation, the commission is recommending cutting the amount of extra credit time inmates can earn; program credits and education credits could be combined for up to two years off an inmate's sentence instead of the current four years.

Some members of the commission also want the Department of Correction to take a harder stand on good time credit. 13 Investigates showed how violent criminals who commit more offenses behind bars still get their good time credit anyway.

"Once an inmate loses credit for misbehaving, it should be lost forever," said commission member Rep Greg Steuerwald (R – Danville). "Encouraging these guys to behave in prison is what good time credit is for, and giving credit to those kinds of inmates [who repeatedly violate prison rules] is not what the system was intended to do."

That sentiment is shared by other high-ranking members of both the House and Senate. Permanently withholding lost good time credit for inmates who violate prison rules is not currently included in the proposed bill, but lawmakers say the language will be added once the bill is introduced to the full legislature.

The Department of Correction does not agree with all the changes. The department says letting inmates out early saves a lot of money. According to IDOC, requiring inmates to serve more of their sentences will cost taxpayers millions of dollars and could force the state to build more prisons.

Lawmakers will continue to meet with IDOC, prosecutors and public defenders to craft the final bill that will be introduced in January.