Mitch Daniels and Criminal Sentencing Reform in Indiana

I’ve mentioned before that Mitch Daniels is my favorite pick for the GOP Presidential nomination, so I’ve been watching some of what he has been doing in Indiana recently. One fascinating development has been reform of criminal sentencing policy.

Indiana’s prison population has spiked in recent years, and state officials realized that they were going to have to spend about $1 billion in new prisons over the next 7 years to fit all the prisoners in the state prison system. In response, Governor Daniels announced a plan to study the State’s sentencing laws, together with two non-profit groups, the Pew Center on the States and the Council of State Governments Justice Center, to see if the state’s criminal sentences had become too punitive. The groups published their report, which found that the drug laws had become too draconian and “one size fits all,” and that there wasn’t enough support for susbtance abuse treatment. The report recommended less punitive and more nuanced sentencing laws for nonviolent drug offenses as well as better substance abuse counseling as a way to lessen the prison population and avoid having to build new prisons. Last week, Daniels endorsed the report. Now the attention will turn to translating the report’s recommendations to statutory language, and Daniels will then have to get those recommendations through the state legislature.

I highly doubt any of this does anything for Daniels’ chances of getting the GOP nomination, and for that matter it’s still unclear if Daniels has any interest in running for President. But given how fears of seeming “soft on crime” so dominate criminal justice policy, it is a breath of fresh air to see a state Governor trying to make sure that sentences are appropriate, fair, and cost-justified rather than just high.