Pence, criminal justice experts discuss Indiana’s prison reforms and problems for low-level offenders

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INDIANAPOLIS (Sept. 1, 2015) – Hours after announcing a new task force to tackle Indiana’s growing drug epidemic, Gov. Mike Pence addressed a forum on the state’s criminal justice system.

The backdrop nationwide is a rising prison population with mental health issues.

“For us to really confront the challenges that we’re facing in criminal justice, we have to take an all of the above strategy in breaking the cycle of recidivism,” Pence said.

Pence, who was the keynote speaker at Tuesday’s event hosted by the Charles Koch Institute, said in the past 12 months the state’s recidivism rate is at 37 percent.

And challenges remain.

Within the next year, according to the administration, 6,500 low-level offenders will be return to their communities.

“We have far too many people locked up in the United States,” Vikrant Reddy said, a research fellow at the Charles Koch Institute. “And I’m not sure we’re getting the public safety we want out of that.”

Troy Riggs, former Indianapolis Public Safety Director, is now director of public safety outreach at the Indiana University Policy Institute.

“We’re arresting a lot of people we really don’t have to arrest,” he said. “And as people know, I’m a firm believer there’s some individuals who need to go to jail. They need to be there for some time. Those are violent offenders, and we also have to be committed to helping them also re-enter society. But there’s a lot of individuals going to jail who have mental illness. We have to address that issue.”

At any time in the Marion County Jail, up to 40 percent of the prison population is classified as mentally ill.

No new policy initiatives were introduced at the forum.

Some experts urge caution, saying it’s too early to see the full effects of Indiana’s criminal code reform that went into effect last year.

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