This week, Indiana Governor Mike Pence signed a bill that reinstates the requirement that anyone convicted of selling certain controlled substances, such as heroin and methamphetamine, to a mandatory minimum of 10 years in prison if they have previously been convicted of the same charge. Speaking to the new law, Governor Pence said, “Drug abuse problems are not unique to our state, but I’m determined to meet this challenge head-on here in Indiana.”
Reinstating mandatory minimums for nonviolent drug offenders stands in bold contrast to the current movement in criminal justice reform. In fact, within the last 15 years at least 29 states have passed laws aimed at reducing or eliminating mandatory minimum sentences. These reforms are the product of a repertoire of research debunking the relationship between deterrence and time spent in prison. Specifically, increasing the amount of time served has been found to have little or no impact on reducing crime during the time of incarceration or upon release. Additionally, crime rates have continued to fall nation-wide regardless of differing incarceration levels among states. This indicates that widespread incarceration of nonviolent offenders is having no, or very little, impact on public safety. In light of this research, a number of states have started pushing back on tough on crime laws by limiting mandatory minimums, increasing judicial discretion and limiting sentencing enhancements.
Criminal justice reform has levied broad bipartisan support. Beginning in 2005, Texas launched a series of reform efforts that has led to a 12 percent reduction in incarceration. These efforts included expanding alternatives to incarceration, revamping probation and parole, and creating new treatment options within and outside of prison. Speaking to the reform efforts in Texas, former Republican Senator Jerry Madden said, “My appropriators loved that we spent less money. Since that time, we’ve reduced the crime rate to the lowest level since the 1960s, we have fewer prisons, and we’re safer. That’s what Republicans are about. We’re about public safety.” Texas isn’t the only southern state on the criminal reform bandwagon; Georgia, South Carolina, North and South Dakota, and many others have passed similar reform laws in recent years.
Governor Pence is right in his assessment of increased drug use in the state-from 2013 to 2014, drug overdose-induced deaths increased by nearly 10 percent. In 2012, Indiana was in the top 10 in the nation for number of painkiller prescriptions per 100 people (109) and in the top 20 for drug overdose deaths. Indiana needn’t look far to determine the effectiveness of increased incarceration for drug users; of those incarcerated (2014) in Indiana, nearly one quarter (24.4%) of males and almost half (40.4%) of females were serving drug charges.
Despite a decade of consistent increases in incarceration, particularly for nonviolent drug offenders, Indiana’s drug overdose rate has increased by nearly 280 percent and is currently 3.5 points higher than the national level. In addition to not curbing drug use, it hasn’t deterred future offending either-40 percent of prisoners released in 2011 returned to prison within three years.
In the wake of peak incarceration rates, the exorbitant cost of incarceration, and its failure to reduce crime, Indiana has befuddled the nation by prescribing more of the same.