By Maureen Hayden
CNHI Statehouse Reporter
A week after Gov. Mike Pence caught lawmakers by surprise with his opposition to a major criminal code reform bill, the state Department of Correction is projecting the bill will blow up the state’s prison population far beyond what the legislature’s non-partisan research agency says it will.
The DOC’s projections, which say the state’s prison population could grow by 70 percent in 20 years if the bill becomes law, caught supporters of the bill by surprise during a committee hearing on the legislation Tuesday.
Republican State Sen. Brent Steele of Bedford, a key sponsor of House Bill 1006, sharply questioned the validity of the DOC numbers both during the hearing and afterwards, when he likened the projections to “ninja smoke.”
House Bill 1006 rewrites the criminal code to lessen penalties for low-level drug offenders and toughen punishment for the worst sex and violent offenders. Backers of the bill have long argued that it would slow down the rise in Indiana’s prison population.
The DOC projections, released by DOC deputy commissioner Randy Koester during Tuesday’s hearing, conflict with a Legislative Services Agency analysis which says the bill would lead to a small increase in prison population before dropping off.
While the LSA analysis predicts the prison population would top off at about 30,000 (up from the current 28,000) within a few years if the bill is passed, the DOC projects the bill explode the prison population to almost 48,000 by 2023.
Both Boone County Prosecutor Todd Meyer and Sheriff Ken Campbell fear an adverse impact on their agencies if the sentencing reduction becomes law.
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