Link between addiction, criminal justice discussed with legislators

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Indiana Lawyer on 1/2/2017 by Olivia Covington

In Indianapolis, a person is more likely to die from a drug-related incident than a car crash.

Chris Naylor, assistant executive director of the Indiana Prosecuting Attorneys Council, shared that statistic and other drug-related facts with the members of the Indiana House Courts and Criminal Code Committee at a meeting Wednesday. Representatives from the state’s judicial branch were invited to share progress and their concerns regarding Indiana criminal code reform with lawmakers.

The meeting featured members of the Justice Reinvestment Advisory Council, a committee created in 2015 by House Bill 1006 to review corrections and probation services and related grant funding. Jane Seigel, executive director of the Indiana Office of Court Services and JRAC chair, told committee members that the council was experiencing success through its initial work, but was still struggling with implementing certain criminal code reforms, such as services related to mental health and addiction issues and jail overcrowding.

Those two issues and their correlation were a central focus of the two-hour meeting, where both judicial and health leaders told committee members that the state must focus on both mental health and criminal thinking in order to effectively reform offenders and keep them out of prison.

Kevin Moore, director of the Family and Social Services Administration’s Division of Mental Health and Addiction, discussed the creation and implementation of Recovery Works, a statutorily-created addiction support program designed for people who are uninsured and who, without treatment, would face incarceration. Moore, who has focused his work on the link between addictions and the criminal justice system for the last 25 years, said Recovery Works was created to not only treat mental health and addiction issues, but also to address any related criminal thoughts or activities an offender might be dealing with.

“It’s one thing to have somebody clean and sober, but if you don’t address the criminal thinking and the criminal activity, you’ve not done a whole lot to help them,” Moore told the committee.

Drugs are one of the largest driving forces behind crime in Indiana, especially in Indianapolis, Naylor said. Similar to Moore’s emphasis on treating both addiction and criminal thinking, Naylor noted that often, it takes incarceration to prove to an offender that they need to seek professional help. To that end, Naylor echoed the Governor’s Task Force on Drug Enforcement, Treatment & Prevention’s recommendation for legislation that supports higher penalties for drug dealing.

Committee member Rep. Matt Pierce, D-Bloomington, challenged that, noting that stiffer penalties in the past were imposed to little or no avail. But Naylor said there is now a new element in the state’s fight against drug crimes – public health. If public health is considered, then people who are true addicts will receive the treatment they need, while drug dealers who merely prey on addicts will receive harsher discipline for their role in fueling addiction across the state, he said.

Bill Wilson, jail services coordinator with the Indiana Sheriffs Association, told committee members that inmates with mental health issues are likelier to be in jail longer, to be in isolation more frequently and to be more of a management issue in general. But if addicts can receive the help they need, then they could possibly stay out of prison, alleviating overcrowding, the JRAC members said.

The full two-hour meeting, including comments from representatives of the Indiana Public Defender Council, the Indiana Sheriffs Association, the Indiana Department of Correction and others, can be viewed here.