VIGO COUNTY, Ind. (WTWO/WAWV) — “If we don’t take action on it, and we don’t fund it, they’re out of money in September and the drug court ceases.”
The cessation of the Vigo County Drug Court, mentioned above by Vigo County Council President Todd Thacker, is a real possibility if an upcoming council vote does not end with funding for the program.
“I think that would be devastating to the public,” Thacker said.
Last fiscal year, Thacker said the Vigo County Drug Court was only funded partially, which he said is important to note in light of the recent request from Judge Matthew Sheehan.
“Sheehan came before us and asked for more money to make it to the end of the year,” Thacker explained, referencing an August sunshine meeting of the council. “(Sheehan) also let us know that the federal grant that he had was expiring in September.”
Sheehan was unable to attend the August 8 council meeting, but sent in the request for $25,000 for the rest of the year. The council tabled the vote due to some concerns members wanted to discuss with Sheehan regarding the drug court’s current operation.
“A lot of the concerns were focused on lack of collection of user fees and how that affects the sustainability of that drug court as it exists today,” Vigo County Councilmember Aaron Loudermilk said. “I would say it’s fair to say that the council as a whole wants to maintain the drug court, but there are concerns about the viability and what that looks like moving forward.”
Loudermilk gave an explanation into how important the collection of user fees is for the success of a drug court.
“The problem-solving courts, a lot of that funding has come down to finding grant opportunities by the judges and their court staff,” Loudermilk said. “A lot of the state money isn’t present like it used to be. So, when we don’t collect the user fees and we don’t have the state money coming in, and maybe there aren’t grant opportunities available, then the burden falls back on the county to fund those programs.”
Loudermilk said the cessation of the drug court could lead to a domino effect within Vigo County’s criminal justice operations.
“If any of the problem-solving courts were to go away that puts a burden on the rest of the criminal justice system,” Loudermilk said. “That’s either going to be an increased caseload for the judges because these people keep reoffending, they’re not in a stable environment or the program that’s really looking out for their best interest, or they continue to stay in jail. Those who continue to reoffend, they’re going to stay in jail for longer times, which is gonna lead to increased overcrowding.”
This funding discussion extends past the funding for this calendar year.
“They’re asking for $25,000 for the rest of this year and then the budget committee is meeting currently to decide how we’re budgeting for next year,” Thacker explained. “So I think there’s two things to it; we not only have to take care of it this year, we have to make sure there’s enough funding for next year.”
The drug court funding will be an agenda item at the county council’s sunshine meeting on September 5, and a vote is expected the following week at the September 12 meeting.