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(The Center Square) – Inmates in five Indiana county jails will have access to peer-driven support for mental health and substance use disorders in a pilot program coordinated by Recovery Works, the state’s forensic treatment program. Each site will be funded with $500,000 for voucher-based reimbursement of service providers. 

The Integrated Reentry and Correctional Support program is being tested at the Blackford, Daviess, Dearborn, Delaware and Scott county jails. Upon booking, inmates at each site will be evaluated for entry into the program. 

According to Recovery Works, 53% of inmates in the Indiana corrections system have been diagnosed with a substance abuse disorder. For repeat offenders, the number is 75%. 

“The first three steps an individual takes upon exiting the justice system are often the most important steps they will take in their recovery journey,” Douglas Huntsinger, executive director for drug prevention, treatment and enforcement for the state of Indiana said in a statement. “Regardless of how an individual ended up in the justice system, how they move forward matters. By providing access to peers and wraparound services while individuals are incarcerated, we intend to reduce recidivism and future involvement in the justice system.”

In 2015 the General Assembly created the forensic treatment program with an initial appropriation of $10 million to provide mental health and substance abuse treatment, including services such as addiction counseling, daily living skills, vocational services and housing assistance. Health Works programs are intended to supplement community supervision strategies to decrease recidivism.

In this pilot program, forensic peer teams stationed at each jail will collaborate with correctional staff, nursing staff and community providers to support inmates’ recovery efforts while incarcerated. 

According to Jayme Whitaker, vice president of forensic services at Mental Health America of Indiana, the program is designed to provide peer support for arrestees the moment they enter the jail, providing one-on-one support. Whitaker added the peer teams are meeting people “at some of their hardest moments and ensuring they have someone to walk alongside them, every step of the way.”

The IRACS program is funded through June 2023 by Recovery Works, Indiana’s voucher-based system to support partnerships between the justice system and mental health and addiction treatment providers. Each of the five pilot sites has received a grant of up to $500,000 to build their teams and the infrastructure necessary to support a full-spectrum reentry process that collaborates with community partners outside the jail to ensure continuity in care upon release.

During the program, sheriffs will gather data to be used in evaluating effectiveness. If successful, the program will be expanded to other jails over the next three years.  

“I want to thank the state of Indiana, local government and health officials, and all the volunteers who have made the IRACS program possible in Delaware County,” Delaware County Sheriff Tony Skinner said in a statement. “We have been hit especially hard with substance use and untreated mental illness for the past several years and this program is exactly what our community needs to help us stem the tide and begin recovering.”