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Money vital for criminal code reform programs and services

July 29, 2015
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Scott County's new 136-bed addition being built onto its jail will house inmates struggling with substance abuse. (IL Photo/Aaron Piper)

In a rural county ravaged by prescription pain pill addiction, the local sheriff has a vision for rehabilitation.

Scott County Sheriff Dan McClain would like to have a detox center, an inpatient/outpatient drug treatment facility and a transitional housing program in his community. Many of the people being arrested need these types of services, but one of the only places they can get such help is in his jail.

The highest hurdle to implementing his vision is money. A very low tax base and a very tight budget keep the county financially constrained.

So McClain is hoping to get a piece of the new funding expected to soon flow from the state to the local communities, especially for treatment and rehabilitation of low-level offenders.

“We can’t even start without help from the state,” the sheriff said.

That new money is part of the criminal justice funding bill passed by the Indiana General Assembly during the 2015 legislative session. As part of the state’s criminal code reform, $55 million has been appropriated to the Indiana Department of Correction and the Division of Mental Health and Addiction at the Indiana Family and Social Services Administration.

These funds are to be passed on to counties to help with the upcoming adjustment in incarceration. Starting Jan. 1, 2016, individuals who have committed minor drug offenses and property crimes will remain in county jails in order to alleviate crowding at the DOC.

Initially, the DOC will dole out $5 million, and the DMHA will distribute $10 million by June 30, 2016, the end of the state’s fiscal year. The Judicial Reinvestment Advisory Council, the body created to oversee the distribution and use of the money, is helping to coordinate the release of the DOC funds through a grant program and DMHA money via a voucher system.

Already, the DOC has sent out grant applications and set Sept. 18 as the deadline for them to be returned. The advisory council is scheduled to meet Sept. 25 to review the applications.

When the DOC grant money will start flowing depends on each application, said Randy Koester, DOC chief of staff. The department wants to have the funds available immediately whenever the counties need the money. Meanwhile, the DMHA is working to have its voucher program ready to start Oct. 1.

While the data on the programs’ effectiveness will be slim in this first round of funding, Larry Landis, executive director of the Indiana Public Defender Council and member of the advisory council, is confident the application process will show the depth and breadth of the drug and mental health problems among offenders.

“We haven’t had a clear picture of (the problem) because (the counties) weren’t presenting the evidence to one body,” Landis said. “I think the grant applications will give us a glimpse at the severity of the problem.”

Proof of success

Scott County is building a 136-bed addition to its jail to have more space for the inmates and more room for treatment programs. McClain received grant money from other sources to pay for another police officer and two full-time case managers to help with the inmate rehabilitation program in the jail.

The sheriff has been talking to city and county officials about the potential of some of the dollars being appropriated through the criminal justice funding bill. Yet, while local government leaders agree the extra money would be wonderful, they worry how the county will cope if the spigot of funds is turned off.

A key to sustaining the appropriation from the Legislature will be evidence that the programs are lowering the inmate population by keeping offenders from committing new crimes.

seigel Seigel

The advisory council will get the feedback from counties and use that information to target the money to the programs that are reducing recidivism, rehabilitating offenders and making communities safer, said Jane Seigel, executive director of the Indiana Judicial Center and advisory council member.

“But to get that, we’re going to have to figure out how we’re going to get the data back, how we’re going to measure the outcomes,” she said. “All of that is stuff we’re going to have to be working on.”

powell Powell

David Powell, executive director of the Indiana Prosecuting Attorneys Council and advisory council member, shares Seigel’s view. He wants the council to develop a mechanism to measure the outcomes and ensure the money is being spent wisely.

“We are placing more people with addiction and mental health (problems) in local communities and if we can’t get treatment dollars to them, they’re going to reoffend and (the reform effort is) going to backfire,” he said.

Releasing the money

Kim Churchward, executive director of Allen County Community Corrections, acknowledged writing grants and then meeting the reporting requirements is time intensive, but her county “absolutely will apply for the state grants” coming available from the DOC.

Based on statistics from the state’s prison population, she anticipates the criminal code reform will eventually put an extra 150 to 200 offenders in Allen County’s jail. However, if the local community does not get any DOC grant, Churchward said she will have to turn to the county commissioners and council for additional money. Like McClain, she noted her county’s budget does not have any fat.

To help the counties get that money, Powell wants the grant applications to be easily understood and the process to be free of barriers. In addition, he told the advisory council that the state should be proactive by nudging places like Scott County, where the problems are especially great, to apply for the funding.

Beth Lock, Allen County director of government affairs, said money for implementing and expanding treatment and rehabilitation programs is only part of the solution. Also needed is physical space where the defendants can access pretrial diversion programs or attend classes.

As an example, she pointed to crowding in the county’s jail, which could be eased by shifting offenders to home incarceration with electronic monitoring. But if the inmate does not have a home to go to, then the only option is to remain in jail.

McClain echoed those concerns, saying the additional inmates remaining in the community jail will need treatment and housing. He added that the programs will have to be comprehensive and do more than work on the addiction, but also change the individual’s thinking.

“The people who are abusing pain medication need a new idea of normal so they do not think that sticking a needle in their arms several times a day is fine,” McClain said. “They have to change their opinions about themselves and about the future or they will remain criminals, but just be sober.”

Along the way, the advisory council will have to figure out how to demonstrate that investing in drug treatment or mental health care will provide a return either in changing behavior or saving money, Landis said. Hard evidence will probably not be available for three to five years after the programs begin, he said, but the counties and the council can show the Legislature they are keeping data, measuring outcomes and using evidence-based practices.

“Trying to change human behavior — that’s not easy,” Landis said. “It doesn’t happen quickly. You can’t just say, ‘OK, we’re going to provide treatment and this person is fixed.’ We know relapse is part of recovery.”•

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