Can Indiana trade overcrowded jails for treatment reform?

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IndyStar on July 10, 2016 by Madeline Buckley and Kristine Guerra

Indiana’s sweeping criminal justice reform is 2 years old. Is it working?

Two years ago, Ashley Sorrel wore a hospital gown inside the Marion County Jail, with twigs and dirt snarled in her hair and 92 stitches stretched across her body.

Hours before, Sorrel, now 29, led Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department officers on a high-speed chase after she was caught stealing FedEx packages from residential porches to pay for her drug habit. Sorrel crashed, and her car caught fire. She tried to run, but police canines chased her down, and an officer deployed his Taser.

This was close to rock bottom. But it wasn’t her final criminal charge.

Sorrel quickly racked up another theft charge after she was released from jail, again to pay for drugs. A judge sentenced her to a year of home detention. Knowing she couldn’t stay clean during the sentence, Sorrel applied for a recovery program. She said the last time she got high was July 2014.

Sorrel represents the type of offender that Indiana’s new criminal justice reform seeks to help. The sweeping changes, passed in 2014, aim to make punishments more proportional to the crime by keeping nonviolent offenders out of prison. Instead, treatment programs would help defendants recover from mental health and substance abuse problems while serving their sentences in local communities.

The goal is to turn Indiana from a state that simply incarcerates to one that also rehabilitates. But is it working?