Encouraging developments on criminal justice reform

The legislative update hosted by the League of Women Voters on March 7 featured some encouraging bipartisan agreement on criminal justice reform. Hopefully, we will see some more movement on reform, recognizing that we need to retool the way we deal with crime and criminals.

HB 1006 passed the Indiana House (which, like the Indiana Senate, has a Republican supermajority) by a vote of 97-0. Rep. Matt Pierce explained this would reduce the burden on Indiana’s prisons by increasing the focus on mental health and substance abuse treatment at the local level. This is a step in the right direction. Locking people up without dealing with the underlying issues does not solve the problems these people are causing. In addition to ensuring people get the help they need, it will also be less expensive in the long run.

That was not the only good news. In response to my question about strictly limiting asset forfeiture, all four legislators in attendance (Republicans Peggy Mayfield and Bob Heaton, as well as Democrats Pierce and Mark Stoops) agreed that law enforcement should be more limited in what they can take, especially for people who have not even been charged with a crime.

Originally conceived as a way to take the profits of drug kingpins, asset forfeiture has greatly expanded far beyond its intended purpose and is frequently abused – not to punish criminals but to satisfy government greed. I am not opposed to asset forfeiture itself, provided that due process is followed. It is one more way to punish criminals, and in some cases a financial penalty is more appropriate than prison time. The problem is when government confiscates people’s property without following due process. This is also known as theft.

I do not know of legislation before the state legislature that would fix this problem and protect due process and civil liberties. Now is the time to start lobbying legislators to prohibit confiscation of private property unless someone has been convicted of a crime – and to make that prohibition retroactive.

One thought on “Encouraging developments on criminal justice reform

  1. The problem is police have a profit motive when it comes to civil forfeiture. Even though the statute says they can only keep the costs related to the law enforcement action that resulted in the civil forfeiture, with the balance going to the Common School Fund, in virtually every county in Indiana, law enforcement pockets 100% of the money. Law enforcement keeping any of the money is questionable as well because it says the Common School Fund will be made up of ALL forfeitures. AG Zoeller's legal opinion that this does not include civil forfeiture has not been well received by judges and legal experts who have commented on it.

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