The Indiana Department of Correction has begun disbursing $5 million in new state funding meant to help local communities provide treatment and rehabilitation programs for low-risk offenders.
Getting more money to counties is a key part of the state’s criminal code reform effort. Starting Jan. 1, non-violent individuals who commit low-level felon drug and property crimes will serve their sentences in their county jails rather than being incarcerated in state prison. The goal is to reduce the rate of recidivism – and, by extension, the population in the DOC – by offering these offenders treatment for any drug addiction and mental health issues.
During the 2015 session, the Indiana General Assembly appropriated $55 million over two years to the DOC and the Family and Social Services Administration’s Division of Mental Health and Addiction specifically for offender programs.
In the first year, the DOC has $5 million to distribute. The department established a grant program and then developed a scoring system to rank the 60 applications it received for a total of $17.4 million in funding requests.
Working with the DOC, the Justice Reinvestment Advisory Council approved a recommendation to sprinkle the $5 million across more than 40 Indiana counties. DOC Commissioner Bruce Lemmon greenlighted the recommendations during the last week of October.
David Powell, executive director of the Indiana Prosecuting Attorneys Council and JRAC member, voted for the recommendations even though he previously pushed the DOC to fully fund a few requests rather than giving partial funding to many programs.
He supported the proposal because the counties are using the first round of money to bolster their infrastructure. Many intend to hire new personnel to handle the increase in case-loads that will come with having to monitor and supervise the coming inflow of Level 6 felony offenders.
Larry Landis, executive director of the Indiana Public Defender Council, pointed to Marion County as an example, saying the local jail is nearly filled to capacity with pretrial detainees.
“(The Level 6 offenders are) going to have to be in community corrections or probation,” Landis said. “They’re going to need supervision, monitoring and that’s why this money that is going to the county is critical.”
The recommendation would make Marion County the largest recipient of the DOC money, getting $1.1 million. The money would be targeted for the county’s community corrections department to support work release and home detention programs as well as to implement new technology to monitor the individuals in these programs.
Three of Indiana’s most populous counties – Vanderburgh, Elkhart and Hendricks – will not receive funding.
In addition to the DOC money, the Legislature also appropriated funds to FSSA’s Division of Mental Health and Addiction. The division used the $10 million it was given in this first round to create a voucher program, Recovery Works, which will pay for mental health and addiction services for offenders.
Landis said the vouchers will give the “biggest bang for your buck.”
Next year, both the DOC and the DMHA will see their funding levels will increase to $20 million.
The total two-year appropriation will help communities get started in handling the flow of low-risk offenders, Landis said.
“When you take those two pots (of money) together, I think it will make a difference on what kind of services are available in the counties,” he said. “And it will give us a basis for going back to the Legislature to say, here’s how the money’s being used, here’s the impact we think it’s having and will have, and here’s how much we recommend you invest for the next biennium.”
To continue to receive appropriations from the Statehouse, the DOC and DMHA will have to show their programs are reducing the number of repeat offenders. However, not all county correction departments are submitting the required documents.
Specifically, counties are erratic in turning over the abstract of judgment which details each offender’s charges and sentence.
In a presentation to JRAC, the Indiana Supreme Court’s technology department explained the possible cause of the glitch. Counties are filling out the abstracts when their offenders are going to the DOC but not when the felons are staying in the community. For felons going to the DOC, abstracts are required to be completed under Indiana Code 35-38-1-31.
For individuals not serving their sentence in the DOC, the abstracts are governed by a court rule. As part of Rule 15.2 of Criminal Procedure, the Indiana Supreme Court ordered trial courts “to make all best efforts” to complete the abstracts of judgment for offenders not going to prison.
According to Landis, a recommendation had been made before to the Legislature to change the statute to ensure compliance. It was suggested that counties which did not file the abstracts in every felony case would lose funding.
Jane Seigel, executive director of the Indiana Judicial Center and chair of JRAC, said the court rule is sufficient for counties to comply but, as the council believes, amending the statute would give an additional emphasis to the requirement.
“I think we all want to collect the data, that’s the bottom line,” Seigel said. “At least for the people who get grant funding, they will have to report (their data). Then we will know what we don’t know.”•