Rethinking criminal justice system welcome effort

Reviewing any process is a good idea from time to time. It allows an evaluation of what works well, what doesn’t and what should be improved. That includes the criminal justice system.

Locally, Bartholomew County stakeholders are re-evaluating all aspects of the criminal justice system — from the time police respond to an initial call through a suspect’s sentencing. Such a review is a significant step and a welcome collaborative effort.

Bartholomew County is one of six Indiana counties using a federal program, the National Evidence Based Decision Making Initiative, to re-evaluate processes. Judges, police, prosecutors, probation officers, public defenders and others are working together to reduce recidivism — repetitive criminal behavior — and achieve better outcomes. Local representatives have been meeting for months.

A driving belief in the re-evaluation is that one-size-fits-all sentencing doesn’t fit offenders equally because some are less likely to commit additional crimes than others. Local participants in the re-evaluation want to improve the assessment of one’s likeliness to reoffend, and shift decisions about that determination from the end of the judicial process (sentencing) to the beginning (time of arrest).

They’re already starting with a revamping of the pretrial diversion process when a person is arrested. Bartholomew County is one of nine counties in the state testing the use and effectiveness of a risk-assessment tool in determining which offenders can be released on their own recognizance. The Indiana Risk Assessment-Pretrial Assessment program is a pilot created by the Indiana Supreme Court Committee to Study Evidence-Based Pretrial Release.

The traditional model has been for offenders to be held in jail on a bond. However, that model considers only one’s ability to pay bail, not the likeliness to commit additional crimes — and places a greater hardship on those who are poor.

While it’s important for people to pay for their crimes, when found guilty, it’s also important that the system not unfairly harm or burden individuals who are unlikely to commit additional crimes or are poor. That’s why it’s encouraging to see local legal officials scrutinizing the criminal justice system in an effort to make it better.