Correction Commissioner Edwin Buss told state lawmakers during a budget committee hearing this week that costs will continue to rise unless lawmakers overhaul the state's sentencing structure.
Representative Ryan Dvorak, D-South Bend, serves on the House courts and criminal code committee. He said it has been about thirty years since the legislature has done a “major overhaul” of sentencing structure.
“It has to be done,” Dvorak said. “The [state budget] cuts are going to continue. We're going to have to cut more money from the state budget … we have to cut everywhere and we can't say everywhere except the prisons.”
He said it's a complex issue and the solutions aren't simple.
“It's easier to consider in the abstract and say ‘there are a lot of things we can change here.’ But crime is a very personal problem to people in the community, and it's not something we can just cavalierly say ‘oh we're going to cut everybody's sentences.’ I don't think that's going to happen and I don't think that it should.”
Dvorak said more should be done in the area of community corrections and re-entry programs.
Representative Jeff Espich, R-Uniondale, said the “bottom line” should include an effort to try to keep more non-violent offenders out of the state penal system and in local community corrections systems.
Dvorak mentioned programs including drug courts and family courts in particular.
"[They] take cases that would otherwise just be a felony conviction - off to state prison - and put somebody on a treatment program and if they successfully complete that program for a fixed period of time, a year or two, and they stay crime-free and drug-free, then it saves us the cost of having to put them in jail. It puts somebody whose rehabilitated back into the community rather than somebody who's been spending time in prison."
Last year, the Department of Corrections Budget was $678.9 million. This fiscal year, it’s about $693 million. Garrison said the DOC has requested $667.4 million for fiscal year 2012.
The Associate Press contributed to this report.