Indiana Passes Bill To Boost Sentences For Drug Traffickers

By McCarton Ackerman 01/28/16

The Hoosier State is ramping up the War on Drugs despite the rest of the country winding it down.

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Indiana is about to start cracking down even more on drug dealers. The Indiana House of Representatives overwhelmingly approved a bill this week that will deliver even harsher sentences on dealers throughout the state.

House Bill 1235, created by Rep. Greg Steuerwald, passed on Tuesday with a 84-12 vote. The bill not only bumps up certain drug-dealing offenses to a Level 2 felony, which calls for a prison sentence of 10-30 years, but also calls for those suspected of a drug-dealing offense to face a higher Level 2 felony if they have previous convictions for drug dealing. However, marijuana-related crimes will not receive or be bumped up to this classification.

It’s a stark change from Indiana’s sentencing reform bill that Steuerwald also created. The bill went into effect 18 months ago and lowered punishments for certain forms of drug-dealing offenses, in addition to providing treatment options for those who had a drug problem. Judges could also use their own discretion to decide whether a defendant should be given prison time or a more lenient sentence such as probation.

Steuerwald said the intent of HB 1235 is to hone in on the most violent drug traffickers in the state who deal heroin, cocaine and methamphetamine. However, there is still an acknowledgment that the bill will not solve all the drug issues the state faces. David Powell, executive director of the Indiana Prosecuting Attorneys Council, said that “we still have a drug problem. The criminal code we just passed won’t stop crime either. This is a supply-and-demand-issue. Treatments will not help solve the supply problem.”

Others also argued that the new protocol could unfairly target those drug dealers who committed crimes out of desperation to feed their addiction. Larry Landis, executive director of the Indiana Public Defender Council, said it’s “essential that someone in the system has discretion. Some people need treatment. Some people need prison.” He also noted that there isn’t data which shows that the sentencing reforms from 18 months ago are helpful or unhelpful and advised to “stay the course” until that came in.

Indiana has been softening somewhat on convicted drug felons who aren’t traffickers. A statewide program was launched last November to pay for the addiction and mental health treatment of felons who were sent to community corrections instead of prison or jail.

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McCarton Ackerman is a freelance writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon. He has been a contributor for The Fix since October 2011, writing on a wide range of topics ranging from medical marijuana in Colorado to the world's sexiest drug smugglers. Follow him on Linkedin and Twitter.

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