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Encouraging developments on criminal justice reform

By Scott Tibbs, March 9, 2015

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.