Criminal justice system responds to addiction epidemic

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News and Tribune on 07/23/2016 by Elizabeth DePompei

While it may not be an ideal solution, community leaders seem to agree that an over-burdened criminal justice system must better address what’s so often right in front of them: a growing epidemic of drug addiction.

Floyd and Clark County sheriffs both have said a majority of their inmate population is booked in on drug-related charges. Stephanie Spoolstra, the executive director of addiction and recovery for the Indiana Department of Correction, said an estimated 80 percent of the state’s prison inmates have some level of substance abuse history.

Drug-related crimes aren’t new, and neither are inmates struggling with addiction. But what is changing is how prisons, jails and community corrections are addressing addiction in hopes of getting people real help and keeping them out of the revolving door to incarceration.

“I think that in the past, prison was viewed as punishment, it wasn’t viewed as a restorative or rehabilitative program for people,” Spoolstra said. “In Indiana, that’s definitely changing.”

In May 2015, state legislators passed a bill that put more emphasis on funding for local corrections programs while diverting the lowest level felony offenders from IDOC facilities and into county jails. That means more offenders for county jails to house, but it also means more opportunities for state funding. So when former Clark County Community Corrections Director Danielle Grissett had to apply for that extra money, she had to have a plan.

“So I went to all the judges and just kind of asked them, what would you like to see? … And they were all very focused on treatment,” said Grissett, who left the Community Corrections director post and moved to the probation office earlier this month.

Grissett said she thought a Forensic Diversion Program was one way to focus on treatment that she thought could be “very successful.” Over several months, she gathered feedback and started the grant writing process. The idea was this: House offenders who have violated their probation in a community corrections facility for 90 days of intensive treatment. After the 90 days, offenders would be released and supervised for nine months while receiving treatment through LifeSpring Health System’s Project 180.

Offenders in the Forensic Diversion Program will be on lockdown, receiving treatment around the clock, so they won’t be able to work. Which means they won’t be able to pay program fees — and they won’t have to. Grissett said one of the things she thinks will make the program successful is the fact that it’s at no cost to the offender.

With that proposal, the state approved an additional $175,00 in funding for Community Corrections. About $135,000 of that will go toward the Forensic Diversion Program, specifically to fund a full-time therapist and a program coordinator. Grissett said the rest of the operational costs — for things like toiletries and meals — will come from project income from other community corrections programs such as work release. There’s only enough funding for the program to accommodate one gender, so only up to 25 men at a time will be enrolled in the program, for now. If it’s successful, a program for women — which would about double program costs — could eventually be funded.