A criminal justice system should exist to bolster public safety in a cost-effective fashion, while according the highest respect to individual rights and human dignity. While Indiana’s criminal justice system lives up to that purpose more successfully than many other states, more reforms to the system would be a welcome improvement for its prisoners, their families, and the state’s residents.
Between 2000 and 2010, Indiana’s prison population grew by 47 percent from 19,309 to 28,389. It is now large enough to fill Bankers Life Fieldhouse more than one and a half times. The state incarcerates people at a rate about 15 percent higher than the national average and spends roughly $680 million on corrections. Meanwhile, its crime rate is roughly 5 percent higher than the national average, and more than a third of prisoners return to incarceration within three years of leaving prison.
Indiana’s over-reliance on incarceration is clearly a costly solution to the state’s public safety challenges, and its effectiveness is questionable. But the cost itself pales in comparison to the trade-offs made with respect to individual and societal flourishing. Perhaps the most unsettling statistic of all is that one in nine children in Indiana has had a parent behind bars.
Without reform, Indiana’s prison population is projected to continue growing. The population’s growth between 2010 and 2017 could end up costing Indiana an extra $1.2 billion. Fortunately, reforms—like the Second Chances Act passed in 2013—have begun to reverse this trend by helping certain ex-offenders expunge their criminal records, making it easier for them to find employment. The state’s recidivism rates are falling and remain below national estimates. Moreover, Indiana is prepared to examine its criminal justice system and work toward changes that emphasize rehabilitation, human dignity, and public safety.
The Charles Koch Institute is hosting a group of criminal justice experts, along with Governor Mike Pence, on September 1, 2015, to discuss how further changes in Indiana might realize the ideal proposed by Governor Pence that “Indiana should be the worst place in the nation to commit a crime and the best place to get a second chance once you’ve done your time.”