Southern Indiana has strong presence with problem-solving courts

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News and Tribune on 4/15/2019 by Aprile Rickert

Floyd County Superior Court No. 3 Judge Maria Granger discusses the importance of the Veterans Court in providing veterans with the tools and they need to better their lives during the program’s graduation ceremony at Nachand Fieldhouse in Jeffersonville in 2016.

SOUTHERN INDIANA — Indiana recently reached a milestone when it added its 100th problem-solving court, a system Clark and Floyd counties have been leading the way in for nearly a decade.

The Indiana Supreme Court released a complete list of the courts in early April, announcing Pulaski County’s newly certified veterans treatment court as the mark to tip to 100. Thy join 49 other counties in the state with similar programs.

The courts are in addition to the regular county courts, and focus on issues such as drugs and addiction, re-entry after incarceration, mental health, family recovery and domestic violence.

The courts in Clark and Floyd counties specialize largely in addiction issues — but each is different and seek to cater to the specific needs of different populations, to help give them the tools to break their cycles of addiction and recidivism.

“We’re seeing a decrease in crime and we’re helping to rebuild the strength of these folks,” said Maria Granger, Floyd County Superior Court No. 3 Judge who started the state’s first veteran’s court in 2011. “So they can contribute their talents to the community and the workforce and be a support to their families.”

Granger knew early into her first term as judge that the court was needed — as she continued to see people come before her bench that were veterans struggling with addiction.

The judge sought to get a program in place where veterans would get support to get treatment and change the addiction-related crimes their were caught up in.

“[We]started looking at what it takes to build a warrior, the mindset and the training and conditioning that goes into that; their life skills are completely different than being a civilian,” Granger said. “We were treating them like civilians because that’s what we saw and we were doing the best we could.”

And the program has grown — in 2015, Clark County Circuit Court Judge Andrew Adams began partnering with Granger on cases and in 2018, Clark County was certified for a veterans court. Now, the team works in tandem to help the veterans of Southern Indiana get help they need. Granger said they’ve had an 85 percent success rate — those people who don’t reoffend. Next month, nine of the current participants are expected to graduate.

In late 2018, Adams also got preliminary certification for a new Clark County court meant to help those falling through the cracks — the Clark County Addiction Treatment and Support Program (CCATS.) It’s meant to help those with mental illness or addition issues while on probation, to help them keep from returning to jail or prison.

This could mean, for example, that a person who may get arrested for on a level 6 felony for possession of a syringe gets help before the crimes progress.

“When they get caught with a level 6 it’s probably their first contact,” Adams said. “Eventually we see these individuals on the overdose list or in the criminal justice system with a higher felony like burglary or robbery.

“If we can identify them early and offer services, it may prevent crime in the long run.”

Participants in the program first complete a long-term inpatient recovery program, followed by a phase in which the program facilitator meets with them regularly, helping them with tools like help with sober living, assistance finding housing or jobs.

Currently, there are five men and two women in CCATS; the men do their treatment portion at the Clark County jail through its Mental Health Addiction Supervision and Treatment Program, however they’ve had some trouble finding the appropriate places for women.

Adams said he hopes that can change; he’s been in talks with the Clark County Sheriff’s Office on getting the same program for women, potentially within the year. If it happens, Adams said it would be one of few similar programs for women in the state.

“That’s what we’re hoping,” he said. “That way we can generate further interest upstate in supporting some of these programs financially.

One such program has seen that kind of response. Clark County’s Family Treatment Drug Court, presided over by Clark County Circuit Court No. 4 Judge Vicki Carmichael, was established in 2011 and recently received a state grant to expand its services up to seven times over.

The court focuses on programming to help reunite parents who have temporarily lost custody of their children due to drug and addiction issues. Though at the start the program had rough;y two to three participants at a time, its capacity had grown to 25 as of the start of 2018.

But mid-year, the court received was one of a handful of Indiana counties to receive federal funding to continue to grow the program. The $2.1 million grant over five years from the Substance Abuse and mental Health Services Administration, a division of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, paved the way for Clark County’s family drug court to have room for 175 families.

Over the past eight years, Judge Granger has not only tried to grow the Southern Indiana veterans courts, but helped mentor those starting veterans courts in other counties. Though when they started in 2011, there were fewer problem-solving courts in the state, things have changed — there’s been a shift in the way the justice system treats people whose crimes are related to more deep-seated mental health or addiction issues.

“Some of the stigma has been reduced,” Granger said. “They look at it not as a thing to be shunned and locked away; they’re trying to look for ways to help people heal.

“I think people have been able to grasp the concept that long term opiate treatment is not something you can just walk away from. You need to learn skills; you need coaching and support.”