- Associated Press - Monday, February 2, 2015

BROOKVILLE, Ind. (AP) - Sheriffs across Indiana are calling on lawmakers to increase funding for county corrections programs amid concerns that new sentencing guidelines will inundate them with mentally ill inmates they aren’t equipped to handle.

Criminal code changes that took effect in July are expected to send more than 14,000 low-level offenders to county jails and community corrections programs instead of to prison. Some will have serious addictions and mental illnesses that could require expensive medication.

“These are people with real problems that need treatment,” Franklin County Sheriff Ken Murphy told The Indianapolis Star (https://indy.st/1HL7DTa ). “We need a secure facility or work release or whatever where we can send these folks … where they can receive treatment, and when they’re released, somebody follows up with them.”

The sentencing overhaul was designed to enhance sentencing requirements for the most violent offenders and keep them in prison longer. But it shifted the burden of low-level offenders to counties.

Sheriffs contend jails are designed to hold people who are awaiting trial, not to house and rehabilitate those who have been convicted. Many lack mental health services, and some counties lack money to expand treatment programs or to launch programs that provide alternatives to jail.



A study by Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit American Institutes for Research estimates that about $10.5 million in initial funding is needed. Rep. Greg Steuerwald, R-Avon, thinks the tab could be higher.

Steuerwald has introduced a bill seeking $50 million in annual funding for community corrections programs. The bill also would pay for probation, substance abuse treatment, mental health programs and alternative courts for drug addicts, veterans and mental health patients.

Larry Landis, executive director of the Indiana Public Defender Council, said money alone isn’t the solution.

“What we can’t do is just throw money at it and say, ‘Here, counties, here’s the money. You figure it out,’” Landis said.

“You’ve got to have places for mentally ill people to live. If they’re living on the street, they’re going to be in jail,” he said. “If we don’t deal with that and the counties cannot send them to the Department of Correction, that means they’re going to be in the counties with the same addiction, the same mental illness, so we have to address that issue.”

Lawmakers say finding money for those with mental illness and substance abuse issues will be a priority.

“Those are the kinds of services that can be utilized to reduce prison population, reduce jail population, increase probability to remain in the workforce and retain productive members of the society,” said Rep. Jud McMillin, R-Brookville, a key architect of the criminal code overhaul.

Many sheriffs remain skeptical.

The American Institutes for Research study found half of Indiana’s jails are understaffed and about a third are overcrowded. Sheriffs are expecting a 20 percent increase in jail population, but the study found only a quarter can absorb the potential impact of the sentencing changes.

“We see huge problems on the horizon,” Marion County Sheriff John Layton said.

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Information from: The Indianapolis Star, https://www.indystar.com

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