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Correctional services consolidation bill drawing fire

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Community corrections advocates are worried that a proposal to consolidate the Marion County probation and community corrections departments would take local decision-making away from community members and give more control to judges.

The fears are fueled by a bill authored by Sen. R. Michael Young, R-Indianapolis. Senate Bill 171 would establish a three-year pilot project to consolidate the operations, funding and staffs of the Marion Superior Court Probation Department and the Marion County Community Corrections Program.
 

white-tess-mug.jpg Young

The unified program would be named the Marion Superior Court Community Supervision Department.

Young pointed to smaller communities around Indiana that have merged their probation and community corrections agencies and said his intent is to see if combining the departments in larger communities will save money and improve efficiencies.

That community corrections representatives have concerns bewilders Young. He emphasized his proposal is not the end but the beginning, and he said he doesn’t know whether the bill even gets through the Statehouse or what it will look like if it does.

However, he said he wants to try to consolidate the departments to determine what works, what doesn’t, and what is the best action to take.

Officials from community corrections programs around the state say they are not opposed to collaborating with probation departments. They are willing to look for new ways to work together and share resources. But they want the community corrections advisory boards to retain the ability to shape and direct the programs that produce positive results in their own municipalities.

“Collaboration is fine, but it should be something that comes from the community,” said Superior Judge Barbara Crawford, the vice chair of the Marion County Community Corrections Programs.

SB 171 would structure the consolidation so that the probation department would be overseeing the community corrections agency. The individual leading the new program – whose title would be chief probation officer and executive director of community corrections – would be appointed by and report directly to the executive committee created under the bill and a supervising judge.

Although the bill calls for the new leader to consult with the community corrections advisory board, opponents of the measure fear the public’s voice would be lost.

Crawford interpreted Young’s proposal as making community corrections subordinate to probation rather than continuing as a separate, independent agency with its own mission and responsibility.

“There are lots of ways to collaborate and share resources,” Crawford said, “and there’s nothing wrong with doing a consolidation pilot that recognizes both as independent agencies without one being subsumed by the other.”

Young said the bill makes sure that both probation and community corrections have equal representation on the executive committee. Moreover, he contends that committee will set the goals and guidelines for the consolidated program just like the advisory boards do now.

Christine Kerl, chief probation officer for Marion Superior Court Probation, has served on a community corrections advisory board and remembered the members all being very committed and diligent to their work in overseeing the community corrections department.

Since the duties of the advisory board have been established by statute, Kerl said Young’s bill should contain language that clearly defines the role of the advisory boards when departments are merged.

On the idea of consolidation, in general, Kerl said the position of the Probation Officers’ Professional Association of Indiana was that such decisions should be made at the local level.

Creating programs

Although he applauds Young’s efforts to foster cooperation between different agencies, Bill Watson, director of Vigo County Community Corrections, is not convinced members from the community would retain control of programs, procedures and budgets.

He is concerned that the power over community corrections will be transferred from the local advisory board to a single judge. The consequence of getting just one point of view could be programs that do not serve the unique needs of each county and that fail to anticipate the future needs.

As an example, he pointed to the Vigo County Community Corrections advisory board which has professionals coming from the judiciary, law enforcement, business, education and mental health services.

Six years ago when Vigo County started a work-release program, the advisory board was very active in laying the foundation and formulating how the initiative would operate, the criteria for people entering and what services would be offered. Each member of the board brought his or her own perspective, which helped create a well-rounded addition to community corrections in the county.

“It really helped shape the program because everyone pointed out something that if you didn’t work in that realm, you didn’t think about,” Watson said, who is also president of the Indiana Association of Community Corrections Act Counties.

Grant County consolidated its probation and community corrections departments into a unified system more than 20 years ago. According to the organizational chart, the correctional services are overseen by a director who is under the county’s Circuit and Superior courts.

Chris Cunningham, director of Grant County Community Corrections, said the two departments work well together. They are able to share resources and skills, which helps maintain continuity when working with offenders.

He noted this consolidation was organized and implemented by the community.

“Seems to me when you try to force people into doing things cooperatively, do you really have cooperation?” Cunningham asked.

Within Marion County, Indianapolis Community Court Judge David Certo said he is less concerned about how programs are administered and more focused on having effective programs available.

He is not for or against Young’s bill, saying the General Assembly has the province to make decisions.

“I know we have to have (good) outcomes and we have to have them now,” Certo said. “If the Legislature tells us to do something and they fund it, we’ll do a bang-up job.”

Crawford conceded that fiscal constraints are necessitating changes to make sure the operations are using money efficiently and the system is handling offenders effectively. Yet, she maintained the solutions should come from the community members.

If Young’s bill was amended so that probation and community corrections were co-equals and the directors of each department would be selected in the manner they have been, Crawford thinks the community corrections advisory board in Marion County “would be more amenable to considering the bill favorably.”

Going statewide

Community corrections officials outside of Marion County believe that while this is a pilot project, consolidation, if realized, will become permanent. Despite Young’s assertion that continuing the consolidation beyond three years would require another bill, officials question whether the departments can be untangled after they are merged.

Also, community corrections proponents believe consolidations will eventually be mandated across the state. Merging programs should be left to local leaders, rather than the Statehouse applying a cookie-cutter approach, they said, because every county has different needs and services.

In Lake County, consolidating the two departments would be devastating, said Kellie Bittorf, executive director of Lake County Community Corrections. Probation and community corrections, while they do collaborate and share resources, serve two different populations of offenders and offer different services.

Bittorf credited the community corrections advisory board with the success of the program in Lake County and reiterated Watson’s concerns – that consolidation would limit the advisory board’s ability to design programs and make decisions.

In response to requests to let the communities decide how to unify probation and community corrections, Young doubted a grass-roots effort would be fruitful, pointing out that to date only a handful of Indiana’s 92 counties have consolidated. A pilot is needed, he said, to find out what works, and the Legislature should be involved in the process.

“We’re the ones that passed the law that allowed them to do this,” Young said of the legislation that established community corrections and the advisory boards. “So we have the right to look at what we created to see if there’s a better way.”•
 

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  1. Yes diversity is so very important. With justice Rucker off ... the court is too white. Still too male. No Hispanic justice. No LGBT justice. And there are other checkboxes missing as well. This will not do. I say hold the seat until a physically handicapped Black Lesbian of Hispanic heritage and eastern religious creed with bipolar issues can be located. Perhaps an international search, with a preference for third world candidates, is indicated. A non English speaker would surely increase our diversity quotient!!!

  2. First, I want to thank Justice Rucker for his many years of public service, not just at the appellate court level for over 25 years, but also when he served the people of Lake County as a Deputy Prosecutor, City Attorney for Gary, IN, and in private practice in a smaller, highly diverse community with a history of serious economic challenges, ethnic tensions, and recently publicized but apparently long-standing environmental health risks to some of its poorest residents. Congratulations for having the dedication & courage to practice law in areas many in our state might have considered too dangerous or too poor at different points in time. It was also courageous to step into a prominent and highly visible position of public service & respect in the early 1990's, remaining in a position that left you open to state-wide public scrutiny (without any glitches) for over 25 years. Yes, Hoosiers of all backgrounds can take pride in your many years of public service. But people of color who watched your ascent to the highest levels of state government no doubt felt even more as you transcended some real & perhaps some perceived social, economic, academic and professional barriers. You were living proof that, with hard work, dedication & a spirit of public service, a person who shared their same skin tone or came from the same county they grew up in could achieve great success. At the same time, perhaps unknowingly, you helped fellow members of the judiciary, court staff, litigants and the public better understand that differences that are only skin-deep neither define nor limit a person's character, abilities or prospects in life. You also helped others appreciate that people of different races & backgrounds can live and work together peacefully & productively for the greater good of all. Those are truths that didn't have to be written down in court opinions. Anyone paying attention could see that truth lived out every day you devoted to public service. I believe you have been a "trailblazer" in Indiana's legal community and its judiciary. I also embrace your belief that society's needs can be better served when people in positions of governmental power reflect the many complexions of the population that they serve. Whether through greater understanding across the existing racial spectrum or through the removal of some real and some perceived color-based, hope-crushing barriers to life opportunities & success, movement toward a more reflective representation of the population being governed will lead to greater and uninterrupted respect for laws designed to protect all peoples' rights to life, liberty & the pursuit of happiness. Thanks again for a job well-done & for the inevitable positive impact your service has had - and will continue to have - on countless Hoosiers of all backgrounds & colors.

  3. Diversity is important, but with some limitations. For instance, diversity of experience is a great thing that can be very helpful in certain jobs or roles. Diversity of skin color is never important, ever, under any circumstance. To think that skin color changes one single thing about a person is patently racist and offensive. Likewise, diversity of values is useless. Some values are better than others. In the case of a supreme court justice, I actually think diversity is unimportant. The justices are not to impose their own beliefs on rulings, but need to apply the law to the facts in an objective manner.

  4. Have been seeing this wonderful physician for a few years and was one of his patients who told him about what we were being told at CVS. Multiple ones. This was a witch hunt and they shold be ashamed of how patients were treated. Most of all, CVS should be ashamed for what they put this physician through. So thankful he fought back. His office is no "pill mill'. He does drug testing multiple times a year and sees patients a minimum of four times a year.

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