Growing probation rolls worry county officials in Indiana

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on June 24, 2016 by MAUREEN HAYDEN CNHI State Reporter

Clark County case highlights officials’ concerns

INDIANAPOLIS — The number of people getting probation instead of jail time is growing quickly under new sentencing rules, but communities that oversee probation programs say they don’t have enough money to handle the influx.

Last week’s arrest of a probationer from southern Indiana, whom police said was en route to a gay pride event with a cache of weapons, shows the system’s flaws, one lawmaker said this week.

Since taking effect a year ago, sentencing reform is ratcheting demand for probation services faster than it sends people into local jails or assigns them to spots in community corrections programs.

A study by the Indiana Judicial Center found that two-thirds of the lowest-level felony offenders are being put on probation, compared to 60 percent before the law went into effect.

“We were in the hole before sentencing reform was even put into place, and now the caseload numbers are just get higher,” said Linda Brady, president of the Probation Officers Professional Association of Indiana.

The trend worries people who manage probation programs – even some who supported sentencing reforms that aimed to divert people and money away from prisons and into community-based treatment and corrections programs.

“The problem is that the money never followed,” said Bloomington Police Chief Michael Diekhoff, who heads the Indiana Association of Police Chiefs.

Tension between a growing number of probationers, with too few resources to keep watch over them, came into focus this week when Rep. Ed Delaney, D-Indianapolis, called on the state to put more money into the effort.

Delaney tied the under-funded programs to the arrest of a Jeffersonville whom California police said they caught en route to a gay-pride event just hours after the mass shooting at an Orlando nightclub.

When arrested, James Wesley Howell, 20, was under a Clark County court order to forfeit all of his guns. Officials had yet to verify that he’d done so.

In an interview, Clark County chief probation officer James Hayden stopped short of blaming his department’s high caseload.

But with an average of 4,600 probationers in any given month, each of the county’s probation officers is responsible for an average of 155 offenders.

That’s far higher than the ratio recommended by the American Probation and Parole Association recommends.

Brady called the number “ridiculous” — and typical.