NO MORE RECOVERY?

Four years after the only court-ordered drug treatment program available to local male criminal offenders shut its doors, a similar and highly successful program for women in Bartholomew County is losing almost half of its federal funding.

Federal support for the Women Recovering with a Purpose program, known as WRAP, was reduced from $100,000 in 2015 to $56,455 for 2016, according to figures released by Bartholomew County Court Services.

In addition, local criminal justice officials have been told to either spend the money by the end of June or lose it, Court Services director Brad Barnes said.

“They cut almost 50 percent of the amount, and reduced the time we have to spend it in half,” said Barnes regarding funding to the program that began in March 2011.

The first phase of WRAP is a four- to six-month program at the county jail to help female inmates address issues that led to drug addition.

“It’s usually an attitude, or a criminal thinking error that you might struggle with everyday,” WRAP participant Erin Crouch said. “For example, I discovered I struggle with entitlement.”

Crouch, 29, was on probation for a counterfeiting conviction when she was sent back to jail last July after testing positive for methamphetamine use.

But after being accepted in WRAP, Crouch learned rational thinking skills that allowed her to flip negative attitudes and become more productive, she said.

After being released from jail, participants receive six to eight months of intensive supervision with continuing care.

“You might still struggle, but as long as you recognize your irrational thoughts and try to flip them, I think anyone could have success with WRAP,” Crouch said.

Just over 100 female inmates have gone through the program, most completing the program’s first phase while still in jail, Barnes said.

About a third of the women fail to complete the program in the second phase, usually completed after the inmate is released, WRAP statistics show.

Since children of drug addicts are 60 percent more likely to become addicts, it was estimated in 2011 that for every dollar spent on WRAP, taxpayers would save $7 in child services or juvenile detention costs, said Rob Gaskill, director of residential services for Bartholomew County Community Corrections.

But since heroin use has escalated locally in recent years, it’s more like $12 in savings for every dollar spent, Gaskill said.

If the county is eventually forced to abandon the WRAP program, Bartholomew Superior Court 1 Judge James Worton, a former Columbus police chief, said he believes the impact on the community will be devastating.

Treatment facility closes

When WRAP was first created, a southern Indiana residential program was open to treat drug-addicted male inmates from Bartholomew and 17 other counties, Bartholomew Circuit Judge Stephen Heimann said.Although Heimann described the Clark County facility as exceptional, it was closed in 2012 after four years of operation after funding was eliminated by the Indiana Department of Mental Health.“So now, we have a very difficult time dealing with male adults who have substance abuse issues, especially with heroin and methamphetamine,” Heimann said.

Today, uninsured male offenders not sent to prison can only be treated for their addictions on an outpatient basis, which usually keeps them in the same environment that contributed to their drug use, Heimann said.

Since its inception, WRAP’s ability to significantly reduce recidivism — a relapse into criminal behavior — among addicted female inmates has been nationally recognized, Heimann said.

In 2014, the U.S. Department of Justice selected the WRAP program in Columbus as one of three mentoring sites nationally for other communities to learn from. The other two are in Massachusetts and Utah.

What makes WRAP stand out is its ripple effect that benefits individuals, children and the community, the judge said.

More than 90 percent of the participating women have children, grandchildren or family members adversely affected by their additions, Gaskill said.

Much of the WRAP program deals with self-discovery, allowing female inmates to learn to love themselves, WRAP officer Beth Cordis said.

Once female inmates start to let down their walls of resistance, they frequently undergo “a transformation that is just amazing,” Cordis said.

“They realize they can be a mother, and want to be a mother,” Cordis said.

But most of those women have failed on their own to battle their addiction and are crying for help to stay off drugs, said Krystal Poff, another WRAP officer.

“(WRAP) helps mothers get clean, engaged in the community and working again,” Heimann said. “Then, she is able to get her children back, so they are no longer county wards in foster homes.”

Poff said it’s also important to remember that when pregnant women use narcotics, the drug can permanently enter their unborn child’s blood stream.

That means an innocent baby can be born with an addiction placed inside him or her by someone who needed help and didn’t get it, she said.

So if a woman goes through WRAP prior to becoming pregnant, it could prevent that child from enduring a lifetime of substance-abuse issues, Poff said.

“How do we put a price tag on that?” Worton asked.

More financial issues

The fiscal problems being faced today by Bartholomew County Court Services go far beyond just finding money for a successful drug treatment program, Barnes said. Community corrections programs are facing other substantial challenges including:Anticipated cuts in a separate federal grant that funds other court services.

Funding employees with full family health insurance coverage, which rose from $15,000 last year to $26,000 this year.

Retirement fund contributions that rose from 8 percent of some employees’ salaries to 14.2 percent this year.

New increases in Social Security and Medicare taxes.

With all funding gaps considered, Barnes is asking the Indiana Department of Correction to provide his department with more than $1.3 million for the next fiscal year — an increase of $258,630 from Court Services’ current funding level.

During the 30 years that Court Services has been in existence, the department has found several creative ways to make due with annual funding fluctuations — until now, Barnes said.

“I don’t see it playing out that way this year,” Barnes said.

Smart on crime

The need to address the causes of substance abuse to curb criminal recidivism is increasingly gaining wider acceptance by police and the courts, Heimann said.But at the same time, there’s still a “trail ’em, nail ’em and jail ’em” attitude that exists among many Americans, Heimann said.While imprisoning someone may provide a temporary sense of security, more than 95 percent of inmates will return to where they came from — and many will begin to engage in worse criminal behavior, Gaskill said.

“If I’m hanging out with hundreds of hardened criminals, I’m not going to make them better — but they could possibly make me worse,” Gaskill said.

On the other hand, when offenders are taught to be positive and productive as they are in the WRAP program, it truly makes a community safer, he said.

Gaskill calls that “being smart on crime.”

An uncertain future

One thing that Barnes says gives him hope is that state officials recognize the importance of the mentoring aspect of WRAP.But for the next few months, there’s little else to do but hope. It will be sometime in mid-spring before the state makes funding decisions, Barnes said.

If the state grant request is denied, the county will likely seek assistance from the Indiana Criminal Justice Institute, but Barnes said the only thing the institute has promised at this time is a discussion.

A significant problem in obtaining stable funding is that local county government officials have a different perception regarding funding than those at the state and federal levels, Heimann said.

When larger units of government agree to temporarily fund effective programs such as WRAP, they expect local units to recognize the benefits and secure long-term funding sources, Heimann said.

“However, in our community, it’s been made very clear time and time again that local government will not pick up any cost for programs that have previously been funded in part or in full by grants,” Heimann said.

The judge said he is strongly urging local government officials to examine the success of each program on a case-by-case basis to determine whether the program is worth maintaining.

Since Court Services relies almost entirely on grants and user fees, Heimann also suggests the county should either partner with the city or the Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp. to hire a full-time grant writer.

About WRAP

Women Recovering with A Purpose (WRAP), a residential substance abuse treatment program, is a partnership between Court Services and Centerstone of Indiana.

To date, there have been 109 women enter the Bartholomew County program.  Most participants have a high risk to reoffend as assessed on the Indiana Risk Assessment Community Supervision Tool.

The following statistics on WRAP has been compiled by Bartholomew County Court Services.

  • 89 percent of participants have successfully completed the first phase six-month residential portion of the program.
  • 29 percent of participants are dropped from the program several months after their release when the second phase concludes.
  • Data collected annually for three years indicate an average 39.27 percent reduction in the risk to reoffend among successful participants.

One Community Corrections case manager and two residential officers are dedicated to WRAP, as well as a program coordinator and recovery coach employed by Centerstone.

About Court Services

All programs dealing with juvenile probation, adult probation and community corrections all fall under the umbrella of Court Services.

With 25 full-time and three part-time employees, Bartholomew County Court Services operates a number of programs that include WRAP, community transition, home detention, day reporting, electronic monitoring, work crew and community service.  

The department relies almost entirely on grants and user fees for funding. The following outlines financial sources for the current fiscal year that ends June 30.

  • $1,096,469 from a Indiana Department of Correction grant
  • $732,071 from participant user fees
  • $100,000 from the federal Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance (JAG) Grant
  • $56,455 from the federal Residential Substance Abuse Treatment (RSAT) Grant

Total grants: $1,096,469

Author photo
Mark Webber is a reporter for The Republic. He can be reached at mwebber@therepublic.com or 812-379-5636.