Starke County Community Corrections Discusses House Bill

The Starke County Community Corrections Board met this week, and according to Chief Probation Officer John Thorstad, the meeting was essentially a culmination of ideas and thoughts on how a bill passed in the Indiana House of Representatives will affect Starke County. Thorstad said the meeting was held in two sessions, one with the judge, prosecutor and public defenders, and the second with probation, community corrections and some service providers.

This, he said, gave everyone a chance to express their opinions and allowed for the exchange of ideas. Thorstad explained the bill essentially changes the classification of felonies and could lower the number of felons sent to the Department of Corrections.

“The bill in and of itself is going to change the felony classes from four felony classes to six,” explained Thorstad. “And the sentencing ranges will be different. The concern is that some of what we consider Class D felonies, the goal is to divert them from the Department of Corrections, so the concern is how are those D felonies going to affect Starke County, mainly.”

The main concern with that, Thorstad explained, is the increased use of available resources. Starke County is lacking in resources and developing new resources can be expensive, and with the county so fiscally tight, he said that would be difficult.

Thorstad said he felt the best way to handle it would be for the state to divert some funds toward counties or regions to allow the development of programs.

“There is going to be a legislative short session and it’s going to pretty much be a cleanup of that bill and determining what would be good and what would be bad and maybe providing additional funding where it could be plugged in. Indiana has a high sentencing rate and the laws haven’t been changed in close to 30 years, so that’s why they delayed the implementation until this year because they wanted to make sure the pieces were in place,” Thorstad said.

The bill goes into effect July 1, 2014, and Thorstad said the best thing they can do right now is prepare for any possible outcome.

“We need to make sure we’re prepared for whatever is thrown our way. If we have more cases on probation and community corrections, that might be a problem because we’re pretty swamped as it is right now,” Thorstad said.