- Associated Press - Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Kokomo Tribune. June 28, 2016

Taking stock of corrections.

A group of judges, police officers, prosecutors, defense attorneys, lawmakers and mental health experts met in Indianapolis last week to examine the state’s criminal justice system overhaul.

On July 1, 2014, more than 200 new laws were added to the Indiana Criminal Code. And after six years of Statehouse proposals, study committees and debate, economics finally had caught up with the push by politicians to get tough on crime.

People who commit the most violent of crimes today are serving longer prison sentences. Fewer people who are convicted of low-level felonies are being sentenced to prison.

And counties are seeing more state funding to help rehabilitate their non-violent offenders, who until recently would’ve been serving years within the Indiana Department of Correction.

A report from the Pew Center for the States in 2010 found Indiana’s state prison population had grown by 41 percent from 2000 to 2008. That was significantly higher than the 12 percent average for the nation as a whole in that same time period.

Why did our prison population grow so quickly? The Pew study put the blame on harsher sentencing and corrections policies over the past three decades.

To reverse the trend, then-Gov. Mitch Daniels and a number of Indiana lawmakers proposed reforms they said would create a more precise set of drug and theft sentencing laws that would give judges more options.

They proposed to strengthen community supervision by focusing resources on high-risk offenders and to reduce recidivism by increasing access to community-based substance abuse and mental health treatment.

Many of these proposals finally were adopted in 2014. But the reforms didn’t include funding to improve probation, parole and treatment programs on the county level.

Lawmakers addressed that oversight in the 2015 legislative session, providing $116 million for community corrections and increasing funding for mental health and addiction treatment by $30 million.

The criminal code reforms of 2014 will put Indiana on the right track economically. But it’s too early to tell whether the funding increases for community corrections is sufficient.

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The (Anderson) Herald Bulletin. June 30, 2016

Universal pre-K education would pay off for Indiana.

The Indiana Department of Correction spent more than $526 million in operational and capital costs in 2015 on its facilities for adults. The DOC houses about 43,000 prisoners in its facilities. Meanwhile, Indiana is one of eight states that don’t offer universal pre-kindergarten education.

At first glance, the two concerns might seem unrelated. But when you consider that educational attainment, strongly influenced by an early start in reading and other academic areas, has a powerful impact on the factors that keep people out of prison - earning power, knowledge, social adjustment, self esteem - the connection between prison and education emerges.

Gov. Mike Pence’s limited program to sample pre-K education in selected Indiana communities has been just that - too limited. Only about 2,300 children have gone through the program since it was launched in five Hoosier counties in 2015. It’s worth noting that Pence elected not to pursue $80 million in federal funding for pre-K education in 2014. He cited a concern about “federal intrusion.”

Indiana needs, for both its present and its future, universal early-childhood education for 4-year-olds now.

Yes, this will be costly, but not doing it - it takes about $19,000 a year to house each inmate at DOE facilities - is costlier still.

Beyond ultimately helping reduce the costs of criminal behavior, early-childhood education can lead to better long-term educational outcomes, helping Hoosiers get good jobs and stay off welfare, reducing the burden on taxpayers.

Providing pre-K education is so important, that our governor and legislators simply must find the money for it, and must institute it as soon as possible.

Democrat John Gregg, who will oppose Pence in November’s gubernatorial election, has developed an ambitious plan to bring universal early-childhood education to the state. While the funding sources for Gregg’s $150 million program are vaguely stated - he says he will tap, in part, already existing tax streams and federal grants - there’s no doubt about the value the program would hold for Indiana’s future.

Hoosier children should get the same educational head start American kids in other states enjoy. Otherwise, they’ll be playing catch up throughout their elementary, middle school and high school careers. That disadvantage, then, would be carried over into adulthood.

All Hoosier children moving forward need pre-K education. It’s not a privilege anymore; it’s a necessity.

Our choices are very clear: We can pay for early-childhood education up front; or we can pay for more inmates to be incarcerated 20 years from now.

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South Bend Tribune. June 28, 2016

Hydro project a win-win for Norte Dame, city.

A project that would convert the churning water of the St. Joseph River into electricity for the county’s largest employer progressed a little further last week.

The city of South Bend and the University of Notre Dame entered into an agreement that would allow the university to build a hydroelectric facility on the downtown river dam that would - ultimately - provide enough electricity to power 7 percent of Notre Dame’s current electrical needs. Put another way, that is enough electricity to power about 900 homes.

The city and Notre Dame have been in talks about the facility ever since the university began working to reduce carbon emissions on campus. In the past, the university power plant was powered by 80 percent coal and 20 percent natural gas. Those percentages have now been reversed as the university looks to use cleaner, renewable forms of energy.

South Bend first received an exemption from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission for a hydroelectric facility in 1984, but the project never got started. It was reconsidered in 2012, but it didn’t make financial sense for the city.

Notre Dame, however, is prepared to move forward with the project before the exemption expires.

The plan calls for the university to run transmission lines down the East Bank Trail from Seitz Park to the former St. Joseph High School property at Angela Boulevard and Indiana 933, then over to campus. As part of the agreement, Notre Dame would restore Seitz Park to its preconstruction condition and reimburse the city for any lost revenue if park programs at the East Race waterway are disrupted.

The project is important because it shows Notre Dame and South Bend both are committed to pursuing long-term, alternative energy solutions. Let’s hope it’s the first step of many more to come.

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The (Munster) Times. June 28, 2016

CPHS drug case is wake-up call.

It came as a stark reminder last week, courtesy of Lake County Sheriff’s investigators.

Sheriff John Buncich announced Wednesday that a 20-year-old Crown Point man, Petar Velkov, was part of a large drug-trafficking network, in part centering on Crown Point High School and the sale of drugs to students.

Most don’t think of one of the state’s premier schools - and the centerpiece of one of Indiana’s best performing school districts - as a potential hub for drug activity.

But the alleged ring outlined by Buncich involved the sale of marijuana and narcotics, including illegally peddled prescription drugs, to Crown Point High School students.

This revelation should remind us all to keep vigilant watch over the behaviors and activities of our children because the illicit drug trade can and does happen anywhere.

We’ve been reminded of this fact in recent years with the proliferation of heroin use among Porter County youth, in particular.

The alleged Crown Point network further underscores a sobering reality that drugs are far more than just an urban-core problem.

The recent case also reminds us of the dangers of prescriptions drugs as a growing part of the illegal drug trade.

During his Wednesday news conference, Buncich pointed to a clear bag containing 5,000 Xanax tablets recovered in the investigation. Investigators believe high school students bought Xanax, an anti-anxiety medication, illegally at $10 to $20 per pill.

Parents must remember to keep a close watch on their medicine cabinets - and more importantly on the behaviors of their children.

School administrators must be extra vigilant as well.

And we all must acknowledge that, even if we’re not parents, we hold a responsibility to report suspicious behavior around our schools or other places where children congregate.

This problem belongs to all of us.

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