By Christian Sullivan
Editor’s note: This is the 25th in a series of stories about new laws that are taking effect, most of them on July 1.
INDIANAPOLIS – The state is aiming to keep victims out of the dark when it comes to the release date of their perpetrator.
Sen. Randall Head, R-Logansport, and Sen. Rodrick Bray, R-Martinsville, authored Senate Enrolled Act 239. When a person is in custody there is a 40-day window in which the offender’s release date can be changed. The new law requires the Department of Corrections to notify the offender’s victim within 48 hours if the release date is, in fact, changed. A victim can opt out of notification by submitting the request in writing.
“Sometimes within that 40-day window, the release date has changes, and we’ve had stories of victims turning the corner in the grocery store, and there’s the guy that they thought was in prison,” said Head.
Mothers Against Drunk Driving employee and crime victim advocate, Leila Hill, approached Sen. Head and asked him to help change state law.
“They need to set a good system in place that get victims prepared for the early release of an offender,” said Hill.
Hill said the reason for contacting him was because she had victims who “were getting notifications that the offender wasn’t supposed to be released, for example, until 2018, and then get a notification five days later saying they were going to be released today.”
“That is incredibly traumatizing, it reopens their wounds, they feel re-victimized by the system, and really they need time to breath,” Hill said.
Any one of several different events can fall under the notification requirement. Victims will have to have a minimum of 48 hours notice if the offender will be released, will be released on parole, to have a parole release hearing, to have a parole violation hearing, escaped confinement, or is to be released from departmental custody under any temporary release program administered by the department.
Witnesses involved in the prosecution also will be notified. If the felony has resulted in the death of the victim, the next immediate family member will be notified. The law goes into effect July 1.
Hill said more work is still to be done in coming years. Ultimately, she would like to see judges delay the release of any offender for a minimum of 10 days.
“We really want victims to have time to process, not just an early release,” said Hill, “but plan ahead and develop a safety plan for the offender’s release.”
Christian Sullivan is a reporter for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.