Indiana To Begin Treating Low Level Offenders At Local Level

Changes made to the Indiana Criminal code set to take effect this summer will place a renewed emphasis on Community Corrections.

Vigo County Community Corrections

Photo: Vigo County Community Corrections

Part Jail, part treatment facility, offenders at the Vigo County Community Corrections Center can serve their sentence while remaining a part of the community.

Bobby Bradley isn’t afraid to admit he’s made mistakes in his life.

“I was headed down a bad road–a bad, bad road,” says Bradley, who after working a good job at Eli Lilly for 13 years, was laid off. ”And pretty much after that was when I got in trouble.”

He turned to drugs, first using them, but then he started selling them.

Police caught him dealing cocaine and he was arrested. He was looking at up to 20 years in state prison.

Prisons Versus Community Corrections

The Wabash correctional facility is one of the places Bradley could have been sent. It is a maximum security state prison located in Sullivan County.

Hardened criminals, some serving time for murder, are locked up here.

Department of Corrections spokesman Rich Larson stands in the PLUS housing unit. This is where prisoners who’ve shown good behavior get to go for counseling and activities such as sewing.

The idea is inmates can learn patience and compassion by creating patchwork quilts and giving them to veterans organizations.

“It’s not Shangri-La, and we aren’t going to be able to help every single offender housed here but if they want to change their lifestyle, we’ve got the tools here, the means and the staff to help them make those changes,” Larson says.

But the programming is expensive and recidivism rates are still high.

When the general assembly retooled the criminal felony guidelines, lawmakers attempted to curtail future spending projects like construction of more prisons.

How Much It Costs To Treat Offenders

Senate budget chairmen Luke Kenley challenged lawmakers to create legislation that would keep more offenders in local treatment programs.

“The deparment of corrections is a large budget item,” Kenley says. “It’s been about $550 million a year on the operating side which is about 5 percent of the overall budget.”

Kenley says he hopes money saved by the Department of Corrections can be transferred to local governments. But so far no action has been taken.

There is a fear that local programs won’t be able to handle the large influx of people seeking treatment as judges use new sentencing guidelines to deal with offenders.

Bill Watson runs the Vigo County Community Correction Center where Bobby Bradley was eventually sentenced.

It is part treatment facility, part jail. The center administers treatment programs, counseling, remote monitoring of offenders through GPS tracking, as well as a secured work release facility.

Watson expects to see more people diverted from the Deparmtment of Corrections to his facility.

“You know I think with anything, there’s a cost associated with it – and that’s going to come back to dollars – what can be provided to help with that,” Waton says. “The counties can’t absorb all of that. There’s just no way.”

Those sentenced to the work release facility are there on condition of their employment. They are allowed to live, work and interact with the community for part of the day, in an attempt to re-integrate them into society.

Inmates pay $91 a week to stay at the facility. They also pay for all their food, toiletries and laundry.

“You’re paying for your own incarceration,” Bradley says. “But you’re also, in a way, being a productive member of society because you know you’re paying taxes and you’re not taking the state’s money to house you – you’re paying your own way.”

While Community Corrections programs are the least costly to the state and most effective at combating recidivism, they are also the hardest programs for impoverished offenders to get into.

Bradley counts himself lucky to be able to take part in the program.

“I actually received Jesus Christ into my life and that was one of the big things that was good for me,” Bradley says. “Because I was still able to be a part of the community and go to church service. Plus my family could come and visit me. I wasn’t like an hour or two or three hours away.where they would have to travel to come and see me, I’m right here in town.”

Bradley now believes he’s headed down the right road.

After leaving the work facility, he kept his job and sought a degree from Ivy Tech in computers.

He graduates next week and hopes to someday work in the field of information security.

Jimmy Jenkins

Jimmy Jenkins is a multimedia journalist for WFIU and WTIU news. A native of Terre Haute, he is a masters student at the Indiana University School of Journalism and is proud to be a part of the public broadcasting stations he listened to and watched since he was a child. Follow him on Twitter @newsjunkyjimmy.

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