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The HB 1006 Debacle

“When we enacted 1006, you didn’t give us the tools to fix criminals. Jails are warehouses,” said Vanderburgh County Sheriff Dave Wedding, according to Nuvo.[i] Sheriff Wedding was speaking before the Senate Courts and Criminal Law Committee, which convened with several of state’s key players within the criminal justice system to discuss the successes and failures of Indiana’s 2013 update to the criminal code—HB 1006.

Indiana county jails have recently experienced an explosion in inmate population, which seems to be directly related to the new code’s assignment of less stringent penalties to low-level felonies. This revelation was brought to light by a Vera Institute study that found 64 of Indiana’s 92 county jails are overcrowded, placing Indiana among the states with most overcrowded jails in the nation.[ii]

The researchers also revealed a 32 percent increase in county jail populations over the course of two years and an 11 percent increase in Department of Corrections (DOC) populations overall.[iii] These number suggest the intent of HB 1006, to reduce DOC populations, has fallen short of its goal.

Although, as Nuvo summarizes Sheriff Dave Wedding’s statement to the Commission, “no law can root out the negative aspects of human behavior that ultimately drive crime,”[iv] there are means by which to combat it. Those means are the alternatives to incarceration that were supposed to be available, namely facilities for mental health and addictions counseling.[v] Considering 17 percent of the total DOC population has been found guilty of a crime related to cocaine, narcotics, or meth,[vi] it would make sense for Indiana to invest[vii] its money accordingly.

A novel solution for 1006’s failure

Rather than address this shortcoming in available alternatives, 4 counties are building new jails and another 32 are considering proposals to expand upon their existing facilities.[viii] It seems top-level decision makers in our county seats and county prosecutors in conjunction with state lawmakers have found a novel solution to the opioid crisis and lack of viable employment opportunities in rural areas.

By leveraging an ever-renewing mine of raw materials they’ve discovered in repeat low-level drug offenders, they can siphon our tax dollars directly into the carceral system, where they will be used for costly construction projects and personnel expenditures[ix] that will far exceed the value they provide in terms of public safety. Not to mention the toll it will take on our families., a criminal justice advocacy group, and Cornell University research indicates that half of all Americans have an immediate family member that has spent time incarcerated for over a year.[x] A 2015 published study shows 65 percent of prisoners’ families cannot meet their basic needs.[xi]

People who cannot meet their basic needs typically leverage our social welfare system, meaning the bill will be forked over to taxpayers, thus doubling this horrible twisted irony. Because the fact of the matter is that taxpayers have to cover the cost of the incarcerated person’s basic needs in the first place.

Indiana needs to choose the wiser investment

Currently it costs 53 dollars a day to house an inmate in an Indiana jail, which pans out to approximately 20 thousand dollars a year.[xii] David Powell, executive director of the Indiana Prosecuting Attorneys Council, estimates costs at over 145 thousand dollars per bed, and 5,400 new beds are already in the works across Indiana counties.[xiii] At the end of the day, Indiana needs to decide how wise of an investment this is.

Both Tippecanoe[xiv] and Porter[xv] counties have successfully invested their resources in drug treatment programs and neither have experienced overcrowding issues. The Hoosier Initiative for Re-Entry program placed over a thousand ex-offenders in jobs throughout Indiana last year.[xvi] Although no doubt costly as well, such training program put a number of the formerly incarcerated back to work, energizing our local economies and adding new taxpayers to the tally.

Hoarding our citizens into warehouses like human chattel costs us twice: It costs Indiana 518 million dollars a year in tax revenue.[xvii] And it comes at an all-too-human cost to our families, and we cannot afford to foot that bill. Whereas alternatives to incarceration, such as addictions counseling and job training, imbue our tough-luck cases with human capital so that we may reap the rewards of their success, watching our tax coffer grow and local economies prosper rather than wilt away as a result of our investment.