Lawmakers move to close early release loophole

Inmates can get years cut from their sentences for a number of reasons.
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Indiana lawmakers are ready to take action on a loophole exposed by 13 Investigates, letting inmates out of prison after just a fraction of their sentences.

We first brought you this story last November. Some were astonished and others appalled when we showed even a convicted murder could serve less than six years of a 24-year sentence.

Eyewitness News investigators looked into the problem of early release in Indiana prisons last November. Specifically, a case like Justin Suits, who was released after serving just five-and-a-half years of a 24-year prison term for murder.

Currently, inmates can get time cut from their sentences if they pursue higher education during their imprisonment. A bill at the Statehouse designed to prevent that, in the case of violent and sexual offenders, won't bring Don and Sharon Strasser's daughter Marva Rea back to them, but it is a good beginning.

"You think the system would take care of it when somebody kills another person and we felt like it really let us down. The system did not do what should have been done," Don Strasser said.

"I am relieved. I am happy to see it. Maybe somebody else won't have to see what we had to go through, knowing that the man who killed our daughter got out so quickly," said Sharon Strasser.

There is also the case of Chris Wheat, an Indianapolis swim coach convicted of child solicitation and child molestation.

"He actually served 19 months. So 19 months of an original 15-year sentence and that is outrageous. So the bill Senator (Jim) Merritt and I have specifically targets sexual offenders and violent offenders and takes away that educational credit time," said Rep. Sean Eberhart (R-Shelbyville).

The idea behind education credit is to give prisoners incentive to turn their lives around, but Sen. Merritt (R-Indianapolis) says rehabilitation goes both ways.

"We are trying to rehabilitate the code so that crime, the debt has to be paid. Someone like the reverend in Franklin Township and Chris Wheat can't play the system. 'Cause that's what they did, they played the system," Merritt said.

But at least now, the victims' families believe someone noticed.

"I wanted to even see more, but that is a great start," Don Strasser said.