Alternative to Incarceration

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Some local experts say crimes committed by people who suffer from mental illness are too often punished with incarceration.

They say it’s an issue at a local level and are hoping to spark a discussion about solutions.

A jail feasibility study was released this week for Vigo County.

It focuses on mental health cases rising in jails and disproportionately represented in jail populations.

Mental health issues are common in cases that Judge Michael Rader sees day in and out and he says in big part, incarceration isn’t always the answer.

“It’s not appropriate to treat someone who’s mentally ill who’s committed a crime as if they’re simply a criminal,” Judge Michael Rader said.

In division 5 court, Vigo County Judge Michael Rader deals with substance abuse offenders. He’s also the judge for the county Drug Court.

Finding an alternate solution to an already overpopulated jail is a passion in his job, when appropriate. He says success rates in rehabilitation is much stronger than incarceration.

“I’m not ignoring the fact that we have a very small percentage of people in our community who are criminals, who commit criminal acts, and often times commit violent criminal acts, those are the people for whom jails and prisons are for.”

According to the judge, around 60 percent of those incarcerated in the jail deal with mental health.

Judge Rader says instead of seeing offenders leave his courtroom and head to the Vigo County Jail, we’d see a big improvement if instead we focus on partnerships with mental health facilities like Harsha.

That’s where we find Dr. Darla Hinshaw a psychiatrist.

“I wish we worked a little more closely with the courts, I think it would be helpful if we could help educate the legal side of things as to what mental illnesses are responsible for their actions and those who aren’t,” Dr. Hinshaw said.

Dr. Hinshaw previously worked as regional psychiatric medical director for the Indiana Department of Corrections. She says there are times when those dealing with substance abuse issues need to be slapped in the face with a consequence like jail time to change their behavior.

But she says there are some situations that are different.

“Someone who say has schizophrenia, becomes very psychotic. You can’t hold them responsible for actions they’re not aware of.”

And she says there is a lack in building that bridge.

“There definitely could be more services provided at a county level, but I don’t know where those come from.”

The conversation is definitely there. Judge Rader says we should better apply the information we’re learning about mental health and use it to actually change the way we operate our legal system.

The Vigo County Drug and Veteran’s Court are good indications of those alternative solutions to incarceration and he says there may be a new family court added to also assist.

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