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Support strong for treatment instead of incarceration in the DOC

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David Powell, former Greene County prosecutor, recalled the construction worker who explained his attraction to methamphetamine.

He could stay up for five or six days at a time, go to work, come home and do every chore his wife wanted, stay up all night partying, and then go back to work the next day. He felt like he owned the world.

Eventually, the good times ended and the construction worker got tangled with the law. His story is not unusual and the repetition across Indiana of addiction leading to jail is fueling the push to provide these kinds of offenders treatment rather than a trip to prison.
 

powell-davidbp-1col.jpg David Powell, executive director of the Indiana Prosecuting Attorneys Council, wants legislators to postpone changes in the criminal code until new programs can be evaluated. (IL Photo/ Eric Learned)

Powell, now executive director of the Indiana Prosecuting Attorneys Council, is part of that effort. He strongly believes that addressing drug dependency and mental health issues can reduce the state’s recidivism rate and, in turn, lower the crime rate.

Indiana is set to implement a new criminal code for the first time since 1977, and a key idea behind the revamped law is keeping low-level offenders in their communities to provide them with treatment. The consensus among various groups that this is a better approach to deterring crime has amazed even those who have long advocated that programs and services be available for inmates.

However, Powell tempered the expectations that much will be accomplished by bolstering treatment.

“I don’t think we should see this as we’re going to save 50 percent of the people,” he said. “If we save 5 to 10 percent that don’t recidivate because of treatment, that would more than pay for the program.”

Treating recidivism

Money was the primary motivator to update the criminal code in House Enrolled Act 1006. Currently, the Indiana Department of Correction has a population of 29,500 which has been predicted will surge to 34,120 in the next decade. With the state’s penitentiary system able to house roughly 30,000, an increase in inmates could send the Legislature looking for hundreds of millions of dollars to build a new prison.

Conversely, by reducing the number of offenders who commit crimes and repeatedly return to prison, Indiana could reap significant savings. The Re-Entry Policy Study Commission Report, released in July 2013, looked at the Marion County incarceration rate and found that lowering recidivism by as little as 1 percent resulted in a cost savings of $1.55 million.

Like Powell, former Knox County Sheriff Steve Luce said not every offender can be reformed, estimating only a third of inmates really want to stay out of prison. But the programs he started cut in half the number of fights, arguments and rule violations in his jail. The improved jail situation decreased the amount of litigation arising from disgruntled or hurt inmates, saving the county money.

Although support for treatment programs is strong, such services are not available in every county. Powell said at present offenders can only get help with their addictions or mental health condition if they pay for the treatment themselves.

He voted against recommending the General Assembly adopt the new code because he saw a lack of provisions – namely funding – for counties to establish such programs.

“My concern was what were we doing to local communities when we lower penalties for those drug dealing crimes, especially, and place these people with drug problems back in the communities where there’s no place to help with their addiction and mental health issues,” he said.

Prosecutors, Powell said, get frustrated when they deal with the same defendant multiple times for the same offense. He fears with the new code’s reduced penalties for some lower-level crimes, the lawbreakers who do not get help will still end up in the DOC after being incarcerated in their local jails longer.

Today, low-level offenders are overrunning the DOC. In 2012, the state system admitted 9,867 individuals who had committed either a Class C or Class D felony, more than double the 4,368 who were incarcerated for murder, Class A and Class B felonies combined.

In a presentation before the Criminal Law and Sentencing Policy Study Committee, the interim legislative group charged with reviewing HEA 1006, Powell offered statistics that illustrate curbing recidivism requires addressing several interrelated issues. Along with their addiction, which is often complicated by mental health issues, 61 percent did not complete high school, 57 percent have no job and 73 percent are poor.

The new code lowers sentences for some offenses which could exacerbate the problems for communities, Powell said. The defendants either won’t be incarcerated long enough to complete a treatment program or, if they are given a choice, they will opt to serve time because they will be released sooner than if they enter treatment.

Henry County is an example of a small, rural county with only limited treatment options available. Circuit Judge Mary Willis sees people who struggle with mental illness which causes them to commit infractions. With medication and therapy they get better, but without sustained help, they regress and fill the jail.

She was hesitant to say how treatment, in general, would impact recidivism, but she called the push for more services a step in the right direction.

Oversight and money

Using treatment programs to reduce recidivism is the most important part of the new criminal code, Powell said. In fact, he argued that if reforms are instituted for dealing with reoffenders, the current criminal code could remain in place and the rate of incarceration, as well as the rate of crime, would still decline.

He recommended Indiana take one or two years to get programs up and running and evaluate how they are working before introducing the changes in the criminal statute.

That proposal drew support from Larry Landis, executive director of the Indiana Public Defender Council. He echoed Powell by saying the focus should be on treating drug addiction and mental health, providing supervision and offering re-entry programs that help former inmates get jobs, housing and treatment.

Services that change behavior, he said, will reduce recidivism, which will decrease the DOC population as well as the crime rate.

Allen Superior Judge John Surbeck pointed to his community’s re-entry project as proving programs can be successful at keeping offenders from returning to jail.

“The penitentiary environment doesn’t help people. When you put good people with bad people, the bad people don’t get better, the good people get worse. So that’s why it works so much better in the community. If you can do community-based sanctions, they’re far more effective,” he said.

The Working Group on Recidivism, appointed by the Criminal Law and Sentencing Policy Study Committee and chaired by Rep. Greg Steuerwald, R-Avon, has recommended that communities be allowed to develop their own programs to meet their unique needs. Oversight and accountability measures should be part of any new treatment service.

Also, the group advised that funding be granted only to programs certified through the Indiana Department of Mental Health. In addition, a statewide system for measuring the success of these projects should be established.

The working group is proposing redistributing a larger portion of the more than $41 million collected in alcohol tax each year into addiction programs. In addition, the body recommended the state consider raising the alcohol tax.

Having sat across from grandmothers and parents pleading for their children to be given treatment, Powell believes society may be accepting of something other than a “lock-them-up-and-throw-away-the-key” approach to punishment.

Still, he reiterated, the assistance needs to be provided or communities will be saddled with the burden of more offenders and less resources.

“We should not pass criminal code reform for the sake of it,” Powell said. “The real problem we have in Indiana is recidivism and lack of treatment for an addiction and mental health issues. These (issues) are very expensive, they drive crime at a high level. We need to address these issues whether or not (HEA) 1006 ever goes into effect.”•

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  • Is recidivism really the goal?
    Is reducing recidivism truly the goal? Or it is rather to enrich social workers and mental health agents via offering their secularist services that do not affect recidivism much? If recidivism was truly the goal then privatized religious programs would be advanced, mostly Christian, since study after study reveals such to be the most successful at cutting recidivism. But success has its limitations -- and success always takes a back seat when it bucks up against political correctness. Here are stories telling the truth about reducing the rate of return: http://www.cpjustice.org/stories/storyReader$545 ..... http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2006/november/36.70.html

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  1. I like the concept. Seems like a good idea and really inexpensive to manage.

  2. I don't agree that this is an extreme case. There are more of these people than you realize - people that are vindictive and/or with psychological issues have clogged the system with baseless suits that are costly to the defendant and to taxpayers. Restricting repeat offenders from further abusing the system is not akin to restricting their freedon, but to protecting their victims, and the court system, from allowing them unfettered access. From the Supreme Court opinion "he has burdened the opposing party and the courts of this state at every level with massive, confusing, disorganized, defective, repetitive, and often meritless filings."

  3. So, if you cry wolf one too many times courts may "restrict" your ability to pursue legal action? Also, why is document production equated with wealth? Anyone can "produce probably tens of thousands of pages of filings" if they have a public library card. I understand this is an extreme case, but our Supreme Court really got this one wrong.

  4. He called our nation a nation of cowards because we didn't want to talk about race. That was a cheap shot coming from the top cop. The man who decides who gets the federal government indicts. Wow. Not a gentleman if that is the measure. More importantly, this insult delivered as we all understand, to white people-- without him or anybody needing to explain that is precisely what he meant-- but this is an insult to timid white persons who fear the government and don't want to say anything about race for fear of being accused a racist. With all the legal heat that can come down on somebody if they say something which can be construed by a prosecutor like Mr Holder as racist, is it any wonder white people-- that's who he meant obviously-- is there any surprise that white people don't want to talk about race? And as lawyers we have even less freedom lest our remarks be considered violations of the rules. Mr Holder also demonstrated his bias by publically visiting with the family of the young man who was killed by a police offering in the line of duty, which was a very strong indicator of bias agains the offer who is under investigation, and was a failure to lead properly by letting his investigators do their job without him predetermining the proper outcome. He also has potentially biased the jury pool. All in all this worsens race relations by feeding into the perception shared by whites as well as blacks that justice will not be impartial. I will say this much, I do not blame Obama for all of HOlder's missteps. Obama has done a lot of things to stay above the fray and try and be a leader for all Americans. Maybe he should have reigned Holder in some but Obama's got his hands full with other problelms. Oh did I mention HOlder is a bank crony who will probably get a job in a silkstocking law firm working for millions of bucks a year defending bankers whom he didn't have the integrity or courage to hold to account for their acts of fraud on the United States, other financial institutions, and the people. His tenure will be regarded by history as a failure of leadership at one of the most important jobs in our nation. Finally and most importantly besides him insulting the public and letting off the big financial cheats, he has been at the forefront of over-prosecuting the secrecy laws to punish whistleblowers and chill free speech. What has Holder done to vindicate the rights of privacy of the American public against the illegal snooping of the NSA? He could have charged NSA personnel with violations of law for their warrantless wiretapping which has been done millions of times and instead he did not persecute a single soul. That is a defalcation of historical proportions and it signals to the public that the government DOJ under him was not willing to do a damn thing to protect the public against the rapid growth of the illegal surveillance state. Who else could have done this? Nobody. And for that omission Obama deserves the blame too. Here were are sliding into a police state and Eric Holder made it go all the faster.

  5. JOE CLAYPOOL candidate for Superior Court in Harrison County - Indiana This candidate is misleading voters to think he is a Judge by putting Elect Judge Joe Claypool on his campaign literature. paragraphs 2 and 9 below clearly indicate this injustice to voting public to gain employment. What can we do? Indiana Code - Section 35-43-5-3: Deception (a) A person who: (1) being an officer, manager, or other person participating in the direction of a credit institution, knowingly or intentionally receives or permits the receipt of a deposit or other investment, knowing that the institution is insolvent; (2) knowingly or intentionally makes a false or misleading written statement with intent to obtain property, employment, or an educational opportunity; (3) misapplies entrusted property, property of a governmental entity, or property of a credit institution in a manner that the person knows is unlawful or that the person knows involves substantial risk of loss or detriment to either the owner of the property or to a person for whose benefit the property was entrusted; (4) knowingly or intentionally, in the regular course of business, either: (A) uses or possesses for use a false weight or measure or other device for falsely determining or recording the quality or quantity of any commodity; or (B) sells, offers, or displays for sale or delivers less than the represented quality or quantity of any commodity; (5) with intent to defraud another person furnishing electricity, gas, water, telecommunication, or any other utility service, avoids a lawful charge for that service by scheme or device or by tampering with facilities or equipment of the person furnishing the service; (6) with intent to defraud, misrepresents the identity of the person or another person or the identity or quality of property; (7) with intent to defraud an owner of a coin machine, deposits a slug in that machine; (8) with intent to enable the person or another person to deposit a slug in a coin machine, makes, possesses, or disposes of a slug; (9) disseminates to the public an advertisement that the person knows is false, misleading, or deceptive, with intent to promote the purchase or sale of property or the acceptance of employment;

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