Ganja-friendly legislation has come to two states in the U.S. and others have either passed or expanded medical marijuana laws, but not Indiana, where Republican Gov. Mike Pence has proposed an overhaul of Indiana’s criminal sentencing laws, after questioning whether penalties for low-level drug offenders were strict enough. While Pence’s proposal would lead to more […]
Ganja-friendly legislation has come to two states in the U.S. and others have either passed or expanded medical marijuana laws, but not Indiana, where Republican Gov. Mike Pence has proposed an overhaul of Indiana’s criminal sentencing laws, after questioning whether penalties for low-level drug offenders were strict enough.
While Pence’s proposal would lead to more persons convicted of low-level felonies spending time in a work release program rather than prison, the plan also would require those convicted of more serious crimes to spend more time in prison.
A “serious crime” in Indiana includes marijuana dealing and possession charges, which the state Senate’s Criminal Law Committee wanted to change from a high-level misdemeanor to a low-level felony charge.
Pence posed these changes to the public as a message that the state is tough on drug dealers, but as some organizations have pointed out, Pence may have been financially inspired to invoke tougher laws as a favor to GEO Group, one of the largest private prison companies in the United States.
Though GEO Group is based in Florida, the prison has made contributions to political campaigns across the U.S., mostly to Republican candidates. In the last 10 years, the company has spent more than $3 million on direct campaign contributions, and the number is a low estimate since many state contribution records are either incomplete or missing.
But based on the data that is available, Indiana ranks No. 8 on GEO Group’s list of campaign contributions — spending about $60,000 in state elections. Pence himself received $12,500 from GEO Group for his 2012 gubernatorial campaign, making the prison group one of Pence’s top 30 corporate contributors, and trumped donations made by U.S. Steel Corp., Caterpillar and Koch Industries.
It’s not just Pence that has received financial backing from GEO Group — Brian Bosma, Indiana’s state house speaker, has gotten funding from GEO Group and had this to say about marijuana: “As an entry drug, I think marijuana is more powerful than it’s given credit for,” he said. “I know some states have taken that step [to legalize it], but I don’t find it advisable at this point.”
Luckily for Indiana residents, Larry Landis, executive director of the Indiana Public Defender Council, said he worried the proposed overhaul will leave the state Department of Correction with too many longtime inmates and not meet the goal of reducing prison costs. Landis said he worried that Pence wasn’t aware of the value of not exposing low-level offenders to high-risk criminals in prison.
“Lowering penalties and lower crime are not mutually exclusive,” Landis said. “You can do both at the same time if you target the right population.”
Still, advocates of the law reform rebut Landis’ argument by saying the proposal would lead to more appropriate punishments for crimes, would stable the state’s inmate population and delay the need to build new prisons.
GEO Group built a new prison in Indiana as recently as 2005, and as per its contract, the state guaranteed the prison would be filled to at least 90 percent of the prison’s capacity.