State changing drug crimes to help addicts

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) – Drug users will get a second chance beginning next month when a new state criminal code goes into effect.  State lawmakers said the changes go along with a nationwide trend to give drug users treatment, rather than throw them behind bars.

State lawmakers made the changes during session earlier in the year.  The changes are set to go into effect on July 1.  Some of the changes include whether criminals will be housed at a state prison or a county jail, and what crimes will be considered a felony or a misdemeanor.

Click here to read more about changes to changes to the criminal code.

“Those violent offenders who deserve to be incarcerated for a significant period of time are kept there and kept out of society,” said State Representative Casey Cox, who represents the state’s 85th district.  “At the same time, I think there’s a growing distinction between those folks and minor offenders, and being able to rehabilitate those people.”

The change will apply to most first-time drug offenders.

“In the long term, the hope is to have fewer people who are addicts,” Cox said.  “If you have fewer people who are committing those crimes, then the system overall is improved.”

Funding however could be a problem for area counselors who help people with substance abuse.

“There’s never enough money to go around,” said Steven Jarrell, the executive director at Headwaters Counseling.  “That’s the bottom line.  There’s never going to be enough money to go around.  The way it feels, we may get more referals, which is certainly fine.  But we also know that with referrals there isn’t any money that comes with that to help offset the cost of the clients’ fees.

However, Jarrell said he does believe treatment is a good route, because incarceration has not been a solution that works.

“Anybody can benefit from the services,” said Jarrell, whose office also treats mental health.  “A lot of these folks didn’t know they had a choice.  They did what they did, they shouldn’t have done it.  It was criminal, but they thought that was the only option they had.  So the alternative is to get a situation where you will have the support system, including counseling, and it would be lovely to have funds that follow us and help us do that.”

Jarrell’s office works with Medicaid, Medicare and health insurance plans, but said some clients don’t have any health coverage to help with costs.

“My fee for a particular service may be $100, and I’m only collecting $15 from the client,” said Jarrell, who has also worked as a probation officer in the past.  “If there’s nothing to subsidize that, then that money doesn’t go very far.”

Headwaters Counseling will try to make up the difference from state funding or other grants, or through community foundations, donations, or scholarships.

Cox said he wasn’t sure how much state money has been dedicated to helping criminals with treatment, but hoped that the money would grow over time.  “Hopefully we do see a decline in population and incarceration,” he said.  “Then we can shift more of those dollars eventually to treatment.”

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