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Alternatives to jail for drug crimes

On Behalf of | Mar 5, 2024 | Criminal Defense

Indiana metes out harsh treatment to those convicted of drug crimes. Even relatively low-level offenders can face lengthy sentences behind bars. That’s one reason why the state’s jails are notoriously overcrowded, leading to dangerous conditions for inmates.

Fortunately, some Indiana counties – including Tippecanoe County – have made an effort to increase alternatives to incarceration for lower-level drug offenders.

Overcrowded jails

Indiana’s population of inmates has grown 60% since 2000, greatly outpacing the state’s overall population growth. The majority of these prisoners are relatively low-level offenders, but they are forced to serve long sentences under the state’s harsh drug laws. This has led many jails to be filled to 80% capacity or more, at which point it becomes difficult for staff to protect the basic safety of inmates — let alone to provide them with drug or mental health treatment.

State lawmakers have added to the problem. Ten years ago, Indiana passed a law requiring all those convicted of Level 6 felonies who are sentenced to less than a year to serve their time in a county jail. These facilities were intended to hold defendants for short periods of time while they awaited trial, but now they must serve as prisons. One small county jail that was built to hold 34 people now sometimes holds more than twice that many.

Meanwhile, the state has provided little in the way of new funding for these jails to handle the influx of new inmates. And even when state or local authorities provide funding, the money often goes toward building new jails, when many law enforcement personnel say the money would be better spent if it went toward mental health and drug addiction treatment.

Tippecanoe County Community Correction

The problems are very big and very complicated, but some local governments have programs designed to help.

In Tippecanoe County, the Community Corrections program provides alternatives to incarceration, including home detention. Community Corrections also coordinates counseling, community service restitution and other programs designed to alleviate overcrowding and improve the health of defendants.

Some counties have more elaborate programs meant to provide treatment to people suffering from addiction, rather than shoving them behind bars. Unfortunately, these programs aren’t always well-funded or easy to access.

Anyone who is facing drug charges in Indiana can benefit from speaking to experienced professionals about possible alternatives to incarceration.